A diploma mill (also known as a degree mill) is an organization that awards academic degrees and diplomas with substandard or no academic study and without recognition by official educational accrediting bodies. The purchaser can then claim to hold an academic degree, and the organization is motivated by making a profit. These degrees are often awarded based on vaguely construed life experience. Some such organizations claim accreditation by non-recognized/unapproved accrediting bodies set up for the purposes of providing a veneer of authenticity.
While the terms "degree mill" and "diploma mill" are commonly used interchangeably, within the academic community a distinction is sometimes drawn:
Diploma mills are frequently named to sound confusingly similar to those of prestigious accredited academic institutions. Despite the fact that trademark law is intended to prevent this situation, diploma mills continue to employ various methods to avoid legal recourse. An example of this is Thomas James Kirk's LaSalle University. In their marketing and advertising campaigns, the mills will often misleadingly claim to be "accredited" when, in fact, many are found to have been endorsed by "dummy" accreditation boards set up by company affiliates. In an attempt to appear more legitimate to potential students, accreditation mills based in the United States may model their websites after real accrediting agencies overseen by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Some may even advertise services for transcript notation and diploma verification in order to seem more legitimate. Another typical ploy is for mills to claim to be internationally recognized by organizations such as UNESCO. UNESCO, however, does not possess the mandate to accredit or recognize institutions of higher education or their programs and diplomas. As diploma mills are typically also licensed to do business, it is common practice within the industry to misuse their business license to imply government approval.
Compared to legitimately accredited institutions, diploma mills tend to have drastically lowered requirements for academic coursework, with some even allowing their students to purchase credentials without any education. Students may be required to purchase textbooks, take tests, and submit homework, but degrees are nonetheless conferred after little or no study.
Buyers often use the diplomas to claim academic credentials for use in securing employment (e.g., a schoolteacher may buy a degree from a diploma mill in order to advance to superintendent). Some diploma mills claim to be based outside the country they market to. This is common with "offshore" jurisdictions.
Diploma mills share a number of characteristics that differentiate them from respected institutions, although some legitimate institutions can also exhibit one or more such characteristics. Some common characteristics are:
Degrees and diplomas issued by diploma mills have been used to obtain employment, raises, or clients. Even if issuing or receiving a diploma mill qualification is legal, passing it off as an accredited one for personal gain is a crime in many jurisdictions. In some cases the diploma mill may itself be guilty of an offense, if it knew or ought to have known that the qualifications it issues are used for fraudulent purposes. Diploma mills could also be guilty of fraud if they mislead customers into believing that the qualifications they issue are accredited or recognized, or make false claims that they will lead to career advancement, and accept money on the basis of these claims.
Some unaccredited institutions include disclaimers in respect of accreditation in the small print of their contracts.
In Australia it is a criminal offense to call an institution a university, or issue university degrees, without authorization through an act of federal or state parliaments.
Under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, corporations wishing to use the term "university" require approval from the Minister for Education, Science and Training.
The corporate regulator ASIC places strict controls on corporations wishing to use the term "university" and the name must not imply a connection with an existing university (e.g. University Avenue Newsagent Pty Ltd) if the applicant does not intend to provide education services.
The Corporations Regulations 2001 lists the 39 academic organisations permitted to use the title "university".
The use of higher education terms (such as "degree") is protected in state legislation, e.g. Higher Education (Qld) Act 2003.
Specific penalties are given within the individual acts and more generally are also covered by the "Misleading and Deceptive Conduct" provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974, permitting fines in excess of $10M AUS.
In 2006 the Canada Border Services Agency reported concerns about "visa mills", fraudulent universities operated for the sole purpose of helping foreign nationals obtain student visas to allow them to enter Canada.
Most universities and colleges are public institutions; universities are self-governing, but financed by the state. However, some schools like Tvind's teacher college provide education, which are only accredited outside Denmark.
All universities and colleges are public institutions; universities are state institutions, and vocational universities are municipal organs. There are no private higher educational institutions and no legal mechanism to found or accredit any. Universities are explicitly defined in the University Act. The only state universities that operate as foundations rather than civil service departments are Aalto University and Tampere University of Technology, since 2010, but both are still explicitly mentioned in the University Act.
For purposes of professional qualification, the use of foreign degree qualifications is regulated: if the name of a degree can be confused with a Finnish degree that requires more academic credit, the officials in charge of professional qualification must require it to be formatted in a manner to eliminate the confusion. For example, if a degree is called "Doctor" but is in fact a lower degree (common in some cases), then this confusion has to be eliminated.
In Germany it is a criminal offense to call an institution a university, a Fachhochschule, or issue academic degrees, without authorization through an act of the respective state's Ministry of Education. It is also a criminal offense to falsely claim a degree in Germany if it does not meet accredited approval.
Some corporate training programs in Germany use the English term "corporate university". Although such use of the term might be argued to be illegal, in practice it is tolerated since everyone understands that such programs are not actual universities.
It is illegal under Hong Kong law's Chap. 320 Post Secondary Colleges Ordinance Sec. 8 to call an organisation a 'university' without approval from the Chief Executive in Council.
Under HK Laws. Chap 200 Crimes Ordinance, Section 73, anyone who knowingly used false documents with the intention of inducing somebody to accept it as genuine, "is liable for a 14 years imprisonment term". Section 76 outlines that anyone who make or possess machines that creates false documents are also liable for 14 years jail time.
The University Grants Commission states, in section 22 of the University Grants Commission Act of 1956:
"The right of conferring or granting degrees shall
be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act or an institution deemed to be a University under section 3 or an institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or grant degrees."
Legitimate higher education qualifications in Ireland are placed on, or formally aligned, with the National Framework of Qualifications. This framework was established by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland in accordance with the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act (1999). It is illegal under the Universities Act (1997) for any body offering higher education services to use the term "university" without the permission of the Minister for Education and Science. It is likewise illegal under the Institutes of Technologies Acts (1992â2006) to use the term "institute of technology" or "regional technology college" without permission.
"establish, operate, manage or maintain a higher educational institution by the use of the word âuniversityâ, except in accordance with any written law on higher education"
and Section 72 prescribes a fine not exceeding fifty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both .
Apart from the penalties prescribed by the Act above, other laws that regulate the establishment of universities prescribe various other penalties:
Furthermore, all legitimate higher education qualifications are placed on, or formally affiliated with the Malaysian Qualifications Framework under the provisions of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency Act 2007 . Limited exemptions are however granted to organizations and institutions "where the teaching is confined exclusively to the teaching of any religion" or "any place declared by the Minister by notification in the Gazette not to be an educational institution" under the Education Act 1996 .
In July 2007, the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) of Mexico issued an alert listing eleven institutions that are unaccredited in Mexico: Atlantic International University, Pacific Western University, Endicott College (Endicott College in Massachusetts is fully accredited.), Alliant International University, United States International University, Newport University (not to be confused with University of Wales, Newport), Universidad Nacional de EducaciÃ³n a Distancia, Westbridge University, West Coast University, Bircham International University, and Vision International University.
Some of them were alleged to be committing academic fraud, through the issuance of degrees for a price after short durations (between seven and 60 days).
The Secretariat announced a public relations campaign to warn employers, students and parents of prospective students against this form of fraud. In future, Mexican private universities would be required to include official government registration information, including numbers and dates, in all publicity materials.
The New Zealand Education Act prohibits use of the terms "degree" and "university" by institutions other than the country's eight accredited universities. In 2004 authorities announced their intention to take action against unaccredited schools using the words "degree" and "university," including the University of Newlands, an unaccredited distance-learning provider based in the Wellington suburb of Newlands. Other unaccredited New Zealand institutions reported to be using the word "university" included the New Zealand University of Golf in Auckland, the online Tawa-Linden and Tauranga Universities of the Third Age, and the Southern University of New Zealand. Newlands owner Rochelle M. Forrester said she would consider removing the word "university" from the name of her institution in order to comply with the law.
The National University Commission (NUC) was formed in 1999 to clamp down on diploma mill activity in the country. A concentrated effort by the NUC has resulted in a significant drop in diploma mill activity in Nigeria. An International Higher Education article states, "Attainment of the Nigerian vision of being one of the top 20 economies by 2020 will be compromised by the injection of such poor-quality graduates into the economy. Herein lies the distaste for and the raison d'etre for government's clampdown on degree mills."
"In Nigeria, online degrees from unaccredited institutions are banned and employers are not supposed to accept fraudulent degrees."
In Pakistan, Higher Education Commission is looking after all the activities related to the accreditation of universities in Pakistan. Known as the 'Recognized by HEC', universities are granted this status by the government established commission which is working under the Ministry of Education. All the recognized universities in Pakistan are listed on the HEC website. http://www.hec.gov.pk
Title IV (Crimes Against Public Interest), Section V, Art. 174 and Art. 175 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines criminalizes the act of "Falsification of medical certificates, certificates of merit or service and the like." Art. 174 penalizes the maker or the manufacturer of such certificate, specifically a physician or surgeon in connection with the practice of his profession and a public official. Art. 175, on the other hand, penalizes the one who procures and knowingly uses such false certificate. Despite this, news and magazine articles appear from time to time reporting businesses operating along Claro M. Recto Avenue in Manila which offer fake documents for sale.
There was a long-lasting reputation of lower teaching standards and easier entrance requirements in some less reputed institutions of higher education, especially in private institutions and the smallest regional state-run polytechnics, which seemed rather relaxed. A number of scandals, suspicions and affairs involving private higher education institutions (for example, major private universities like Universidade Moderna (1998), Universidade Independente (2007) and Universidade Internacional (2007), among others), and a general perception of many of those institutions as having a tendentially relaxed teaching style with less rigorous criteria, have contributed to their poor reputation which originated a state-run inspection of private higher education institutions in 2007. In some fields, a number of private, and state-run polytechnic or university institutions, did not provide degree programs of academic integrity comparable to those provided at the most reputed departments of the major Portuguese state-run classic universities. In the late 2000s, there was a growing effort to define nonaccredited universities or accredited institutions which awarded nonaccredited degrees, as diploma mills, in order to raise awareness about the problem. In 1999 alone, over 15,000 students enrolled in Portuguese higher learning institutions (universities, public and private, polytechnical institutions, etc.) and newly graduates in the fields of engineering and architecture, were enrolled or were awarded a degree in a non-accredited course. Those students and graduates with no official recognition were not accredited professionals in their presumed field of expertise. At the same time, only one accredited engineering course was offered by a private university, and over 90% of the accredited courses with recognition in the fields of engineering, architecture, and law were provided by state-run universities. Since 2007, the State plans to enforce in the near future more stringent rules for all kind of public and private degree-conferring institutions.
In the summer of 2009 the Romanian Minister of Education decided to expel graduates of Spiru Haret University from a titularization exam. The university has been described as the largest university in the world by a Romanian newspaper (as a number of enlisted students). Although Spiru Haret initially received accreditation from Romania's National Council of Academic Evaluation, its accreditations have been cancelled for a number of specializations. In the summer of 2009, the way license diplomas are obtained became an object of an inquiry of Romanian public prosecutors.
The Spiru Haret University has been prohibited to organize license (diploma) exams for a period of three years. During these three years, Spiru Haret University has been placed under the scrutiny of the Romanian Department of Education. According to Government Decision no. 749/2009, the Bucharest Appeals Court, 8th Section of Administrative and Fiscal Litigation, in the Civil Law Sentence no. 3326 has radiated the Spiru Haret University, at its own request, from the application of Government Decision no. 676/2007 regarding the license university study fields, the structures of higher education institutions and the disciplines organized by them, with the subsequent additions and from Government Decision no. 635/2008 regarding the structures of higher education and the specialization/curricula for university license studies organized by them, either accredited or temporarily authorized to operate, republished. This means that the Spiru Haret University has been placed outside the accreditation and authorization process, which is mandated by law. The students enlisted at accredited/authorized faculties from the Spiru Haret University may still proceed with their study, but will have to take (final) diploma exams at recognized universities (faculties) which are not prohibited to hold diploma exams.
The Government Decision no. 749/2009 has been reconsidered in Government Decision no. 943/2009. On November 10, 2009, at the Bucharest Appeal Court was registered at its office of the clerk the certificate in the Dossier no. 7174/2/2009, suspending the application of the Government Decisions no. 749/2009 and no. 943/2009 at the request of the Spiru Haret University, till judgment will be pronounced in this case (scheduled upon January 19, 2010, then postponed till March 2, 2010). In this trial, the university called for being paid damages by the Romanian government and personally by the clerks who wrote the Government Decision no. 749/2009.
The Romanian Department of Education has permanently won the case against the claims of the Spiru Haret University in respect to Government Decisions no. 676/2007 and no. 635/2008, as the High Court of Cassation and Justice decided on October 30, 2009. As such, the self-removal the university from the application of such decisions is null and void, therefore its authorized/accredited curricula remain authorized/accredited, but all other claims of broader accreditation made in the name operating according to its constitutional right to academic autonomy have been dropped, since this right may only be exercised as provided by law. The Director of the Law and Control Direction of the Romanian Department of Education, Mr. Gabriel Ispas claimed that "Since we have won this trial, we cannot lose the subsequent trials."
The verdict of the Bucharest Court of Appeal in Dossier no. 7174/2/2009 has been postponed till April 13, 2010. Even if one cannot know the future, the Romanian High Court of Justice and Cassation has registered the recourse made by the Romanian Department of Education in respect to the decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal in the same dossier, the trial being scheduled for May 25, 2010 and September 21, 2010. The significant difference in respect to the previous High Court trial is that the government did not list the Spiru Haret University in the Government Decision no. 749/2009, considering that this university does not want to be listed therein, and listed it again in Government Decision no. 943/2009, when reconsidering Government Decision no. 749/2009, as demanded by the university. Such Government Decisions are the official lists of all accredited/authorized Romanian curricula in a certain year. No other curriculum than those listed therein may issue a license diploma, and no other curriculum counts as higher education study (legally). A Google search proves that many Romanian newspapers call the Spiru Haret University "a diploma mill" (literally translated, "a diplomas factory").
Petre Andrei University from IaÅi has been demanded to comply with the Law no. 408/2002, otherwise it will be liquidated. The same holds for Apolonia University from IaÅi (speaking of Law no. 481/2002 instead of Law no. 408/2002).
It is illegal to falsely claim a degree in South Korea if it does not meet accredited approval. For example, in March 2006 prosecutors in Seoul were reported to have "broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and seats in orchestras." People who falsely used these degrees were criminally charged.
Early 2007, Shin Jeong-ah (native ì ì ì) has been criminally charged for forging and misusing a degree from Yale University. This led to domino reactions due to her career status as a Professor in Dong-kuk University along with a curator position at an art gallery known to have many ties with both economical and political figures.
In Sri Lanka until 1999 only state universities could grant degrees, however amendments to the Universities Act that year gave certain institutions other than state universities power to grant degrees. This ability to grant degrees is established by an Act of Parliament (rare) or given by the University Grants Commission. Universities can be established only by a an act of parliament, to date no private university as been established in Sri Lanka.
In June 2007 the Swedish Minister for Employment, Sven-Otto Littorin, was discovered to have an MBA degree from Fairfax University. Aware that claiming an MBA from this diploma mill would be illegal in many states in the USA, Littorin tried to convince the Swedish media and people that the MBA was granted to him in good order. Probably due to the fact that he did not let anyone peer review his thesis, he was eventually forced to remove the reference from his official CV, but he remained in office.
In federal law, qualifications from federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Zurich, EPF Lausanne) and those from Fachhochschule-institutions are protected and it is a criminal offense, under unfair competition legislation, to use any unfounded academic or occupational qualifications. The mere keeping of such a title, however, is legal. Thus, one can call oneself an LL.M., but must not use when competing for clients.
There are three notable diploma mills in Switzerland: Freie UniversitÃ¤t Teufen, Freie UniversitÃ¤t Herisau and Freie UniversitÃ¤t Zug.
In the UK it is illegal to offer something that may be mistaken for a UK degree unless the awarding body is on a list maintained by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This is difficult to enforce on the Internet, where a site may be based abroad. However, UK Trading Standards officers have had notable success in countering a large diploma mill group based abroad that was using British place-names for its "universities".
The United States does not have a federal law that would unambiguously prohibit diploma mills, and the term "university" is not legally protected on a national level. As a result, the United States is a diploma mill haven from a global viewpoint. The United States Department of Education lacks direct plenary authority to regulate schools and, consequently, the quality of an institution's degree. Under the terms of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Secretary determines to be reliable authorities on the quality of education or training provided by the institutions of higher education that they accredit. Some degree mills have taken advantage of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by representing themselves as seminaries, since in many jurisdictions religious institutions can legally offer degrees in religious subjects without government regulation.
Although the DipScam operation in the 1980s led to a decline in diploma mill activity across the United States, the lack of further action by law enforcement, uneven state laws, and the rise of the Internet have combined to reverse many of the gains made in previous years. In 2005, the US Department of Education launched www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation to combat the spread of fraudulent degrees. A number of states have passed bills restricting the ability of organisations to award degrees without accreditation.