It is easier than ever to get a college degree! Whether or not you graduated from the school is now irrelevant! On the other hand, the fastest growing sector in the world of higher education is “distance education” where one can attain an undergraduate and graduate education, specialized certification, or professional degree through the Internet. This article discusses the two main areas regarding online college degrees. One involves fraudulent online degrees and the other concerns the wave of intensive growth in distance education.
Real Online Universities
Universities are a strange breed. They are non-profit institutions that are looking to make a profit and stay alive, amid a plethora of competition. The statistics behind online universities is impressive. International Data Corporation Online recently reported that online universities are growing by 33% annually. The largest and most well-known is the University of Phoenix – Online which is their cyber-branch, so to speak. They are clearly in the for-profit university category and are raking it in.
Just like regular businesses saving money by running an online store without a brick and mortar location, these universities profit by not having to set aside the physical space and facilities. They also target people around the world, regardless of geographic location.
“…How bad is this educational fraud? Some of these websites offer to graduate you with honors for an additional fee…”
Does an Online College Degree have any Value?
The truth is, schools that are accredited offer diplomas that are really worthwhile. For geographic, financial, or quality of life (such as limited time) reasons, completing a legitimate degree online can be satisfactory. The majority of real universities do accept applications from potential students who have completed prior degrees online. This is true for both undergraduate and graduate-level candidates.
According to Vicky Phillips, CEO of GetEducated.com, the hottest online university degree is the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). More students are working on their MBA through an online university than for any other area of study that is offered by legitimate Internet-based institutions.
As with any business, there are many competitors and scam artists trying to get in on the action. Scam universities are popping up all over the Internet and in some cases, it is difficult to stop them. There are clear differences between legitimate online degrees and fake diplomas.
Fraudulent degree website companies are frequently called ‘degree mills’ due to their rapid production and distribution of fake diplomas. Many of them have been around for decades and are exploiting the Internet to increase sales.
Credit for “Life Experience” Degrees
Most of the online universities function in the same manner. They offer credit for life experience. Essentially, all one must do is demonstrate their life experiences and pay the university’s fees (typically several hundred dollars), and they will mail you a diploma. At face value this sounds good since many people do have more practical experience than a formal education.
You can also get a transcript with artificial grades and a list of courses for which you received ‘equivalency’ for life experience. How bad is this educational fraud? Some of these diploma mill websites offer to graduate you with honors for an additional fee!!
The problem is that under most state and federal laws, “life experience” can only account for a small minority of the student’s overall degree-related credit. Degree mills ignore that fact and frequently claim to be accredited by official agencies which are equally bogus, in practice.
The Diploma itself typically looks impressive and is indistinguishable from a real college or university diploma. Moreover, the names of these online “institutions” generally sound great, mimicking real universities.
Clearly the companies offering these diplomas have no integrity and worse, they make the rest of us who have worked hard for our degrees come into question.
Scam University Diplomas Can Get You a Job and a Raise
Aside from making it easier to get a job, in some professions such as teaching, proving that you have an advanced continuing education certificate or higher education degree can lead to a pay raise. In 2003, about a dozen teachers in Georgia who claimed to have Doctoral degrees from the bogus Saint Regis University were caught.
Government Employees Busted for Fake Diplomas
In May of 2004, an investigation revealed that nearly 500 government employees got their jobs by claiing they had degrees from these diploma mills. This included 28 high ranking officials and 3 with US high level security clearance.
In late 2003, a Maryland investigation resulted in the firing of a newly appointed Homeland Security director on his first day of work after it was discovered that he included a La Salle University “PhD” on his resume with his application for employment. House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis has stated that “public trust in government is a key pillar of our democracy. There is no place for diploma mill degree holders to work in our government, especially when we are talking about homeland security. ”
Diploma Mill Crackdown
There has been a crackdown on many of these companies which is good news for people who have legitimately worked hard to achieve their diplomas. In fact, these companies basically set up a website and sold a piece of paper. That’s what it comes down to. They all claim to check your previous coursework and prior life experience but that is rarely the case. Visit their website, pay by credit card and you’ll have a diploma within days.
The scary part of this whole scam is the range of degrees offered. You can get an Associates Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctorate, Law School Diploma, and even a Medical School Diploma. Imagine someone with a fake degree operating on you!
While some states are investigating fraudulent online universities, others such as Hawaii, Wyoming, and Montana actually allow them to exist and sell diplomas under the agreement that they have some sort of real world presence within their state.
How to Recognize a Diploma Mill
How can you recognize a legitimate online college or university? One superficial way that will work in most cases is to look at the actual web address. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the international organization that dispenses domain names (web addresses). Websites offering commercial products and services end in .com and non-profit organizations end in .org. Officially accredited schools typically receive the .edu designation. For example, Stanford University’s web address is Stanford.edu.
It is easy to get a .com or .org designation since anyone can go to a domain name registration website and purchase the name for about $25/year. However, it is somewhat difficult to obtain a .edu domain name so the first thing to check is the web address itself which can give you a clue as to whether or not the “college” is real or a company looking to make a quick and easy profit by selling you a piece of paper for a few hundred dollars.
If you are curious about the validity of a given school or website you can read the list of accredited schools and check with the US Department of Education for detailed information. This is also a great list of universities that are sketchy.
The Bottom Line
Completing a degree using a college or university that is online can be fulfilling, constructive, and beneficial provided that the school is legitimate.