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Accreditation & Diploma Mills Federal, State, International, and Other Resources

STEP-by-STEP...
How to find an online higher education opportunity from an accredited school
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US Dept. of Education accreditation database
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Council for Higher Education Accreditation database
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International
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Overview
New Jersey
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Other Resources:
information and articles from the Federal Trade Commission, Government Accounting Office, U.S. Department of Labor, NJ School Boards Association, NJ Association of School Administrators, and several other online, nongovernment sources

OVERVIEW

It is important to note that there are many legitimate and accredited institutions offering online degrees.  Not all, or even most, online schools or traditional, "bricks and mortar" institutions with online course and/or degree offerings are unaccredited or "diploma mills."

The terms "unaccredited" and "diploma mill" are sometimes improperly treated as synonomous.  In fact, there are a wide range of institutions representing themselves as colleges or universities that grant degrees but do not meet New Jersey standards.

At one end of the spectrum are the outright diploma or degree mills claiming "accreditation" by unrecognized accreditation mills, the "no questions asked diploma replacement services", the "Life Experience" degree providers, or the providers of "novelty diplomas for entertainment purposes only".  These businesses will offer, in return for payment, to provide a diploma, and in some cases, a transcript, a telephone verification service, employer letters, "Honors" for an extra fee, etc.   An attempt to use such a "degree" in New Jersey may well be considered a violation of NJ.S.A. 18A:3-15.2. Use of fraudulent degree and subject one to substantial penalties.   Some tips on evaluating an institution to determine if it is likely a "mill" are available below.

Some such "schools" may purport to be offering you credit for "life experience", but will ask only for you to briefly describe your qualifying "experience" on a web form. Legitimate institutions sometimes grant some credit for work experience and non-collegiate training, but they require extensive documentation, evaluation, review, and/or testing before granting a relatively small portion of the credits required for a degree based on such experience.

At the other end of the spectrum are institutions that may not be accredited but are not degree mills. For example, the institution may be seeking accreditation, but the process is not complete. Or a legitimate institution may choose not to be accredited for reasons that do not relate to the quality of their offerings. 

There is a broad range of variation in quality between these extremes. New Jersey law provides that... A person or other legal entity shall not use, or attempt to use, in connection with any business, trade, profession or occupation any academic degree or certification of degree or degree credit, including but not limited to a transcript of course work, which has been fraudulently issued, obtained, forged or altered. A person shall not, with intent to deceive, falsely represent himself as having received any such degree or credential.

In New Jersey (and in several other states), an even stricter standard applies to the appending of titles or letters to one's name which indicate the attainment of a higher education degree; i.e., associates, bachelors, masters, or doctorate.  Doing so is prohibited in New Jersey unless the degree was conferred by:

  • a New Jersey licensed college or university,

  • a regionally accredited institution (or one which has attained candidate status for regional accreditation) and is licensed in another state, or

  • a foreign institution of higher education that is recognized by the appropriate body in the particular country provided that the institution’s requirements for awarding degrees are generally equivalent to those accepted in the U.S. by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Please review the relevant New Jersey statutes and regulations and verify the accreditation status of the institution before you use or claim a college degree in New Jersey.

If the institution from which you have received a degree is not licensed by the NJ Commission on Higher Education and does not appear in the database, with institutional accreditation by a recognized regional accrediting body, it is unlawful in New Jersey to append the letters associated with that degree to your name, e.g., Dr., Ph.D., Ed.D., M.S., B.A., etc.

Employers... You can use these tools to confirm the accreditation status of a school from which an applicant claims a degree, but you should also verify the coursework and/or degree information claimed with that higher education institution.  See Avoid Fake-Degree Burns By Researching Academic Credentials, from the Federal Trade Commission.

K-12 Educators... The New Jersey Department of Education generally requires that coursework and degrees submitted in conjunction with an application for certification or endorsement be from a regionally accredited college or university.

If the answers to many of the following questions are “yes,” the degree provider under consideration may be a “mill”:
    1. Can degrees be purchased?
    2. Is there a claim of accreditation when there is no evidence of this status?
    3. Is there a claim of accreditation from a questionable accrediting organization?
    4. Does the operation lack state or federal licensure or authority to operate?
    5. Is little if any attendance required of students, either online or in class?
    6. Are few assignments required for students to earn credits?
    7. Is a very short period of time required to earn a degree?
    8. Are degrees available based solely on experience or resume review?
    9. Are there few requirements for graduation?
    10. Does the operation fail to provide any information about a campus or business location or address and rely, e.g., only on a post office box?
    11. Does the operation fail to provide a list of its faculty and their qualifications?
    12. Does the operation have a name similar to other well-known colleges and universities?
    13. Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?
There are institutions that may not be accredited but are not degree mills. For example, the institution may be seeking accreditation, but the process is not complete. Or a legitimate institution may choose not to be accredited for reasons that do not relate to quality.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's website... The Better Business Bureau suggests you watch for the following features and regard them as red flags when considering whether or not to enroll in a school:

  • Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution, an example would be earning a Bachelor's degree in a few months.
  • A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Often, these schools will list accreditation by organizations that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (the two reputable organizations that recognize accrediting agencies). These schools will also imply official approval by mentioning state registration or licensing.
  • Offers that place unrealistic emphasis on offering college credits for lifetime or real world experience.
  • Tuition paid on a per-degree basis, or discounts for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Accredited institutions charge by credit hours, course, or semester.
  • Little or no interaction with professors.
  • Names that are similar to well known reputable universities.
  • Addresses that are box numbers or suites. That campus may very well be a mail drop box or someone's attic.

With the increase in the availability of earning degrees online there has been an increase in diploma mills. Diploma mills often use the Internet to market their programs. Diploma mills often promise degrees for a fee in a few short days or months.


New Jersey:

Please see the New Jersey Statutes and Regulations below for information on using or claiming a degree in New Jersey.

NEW STATUTE...
May 6, 2010 -An Act requiring that certain conditions be met in order for school districts to provide their employees with tuition assistance for coursework or additional compensation upon acquisition of academic credits or completion of a degree program, passed the General Assembly, has now passed both houses, and has been signed by the Governor. P.L. 2010, Chapter 13
Check back here for updates on legislative activity and any new laws which may be enacted.
New Jersey Department of Education:


Other States:
Oregon:
The Oregon Student Assistance Commission, Office of Degree Authorization maintains an excellent and extensive website related to accreditation and alleged degree mills, including a listing of known unaccredited institutions.

Michigan and  Maine also maintain listings of known unaccredited institutions.

Please note that such listings are almost always incomplete, as phony schools can appear and disappear within days or even hours, particularly on the Internet.

A number of other states also provide online resources on this topic.  Links to many are available here through the CHEA website


U.S. Department of Education:
  • SEARCH the Listing of Postsecondary Educational Institutions and Programs Accredited by Accrediting Agencies and State Approval Agencies Recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. 
    The U.S. Department of Education recommends that their database be used as one source of qualitative information and that additional sources of qualitative information be consulted. One such resource is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation Database linked below.

    • Accreditation in the United States
      ...The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality...
    • Diploma Mills
      ...Diploma mills are schools that are more interested in taking your money than providing you with a quality education. You need to know how to protect yourself as a consumer...
    • Accreditation
      ...In some states*, it can be illegal to use a degree from an institution that is not accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, unless approved by the state licensing agency.
      *  New Jersey is one such state.
The U.S. Network for Education Information Links:

Council for Higher Education Accreditation:
    • SEARCH the Database of Institutions Accredited By Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations

      • Degree Mills: An Old Problem and A New Threat
        Diploma or degree mills come in many guises. Some degree mills blatantly offer to sell a degree and perhaps a transcript from a legitimate school...
      • Informing the Public About Accreditation
        “Accreditation” is review of the quality of higher education institutions and programs. In the United States, accreditation is a major way that students, families, government officials, and the press know that an institution or program provides a quality education...
      • Important Questions About Accreditation, Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills
        In their quest for higher education and training, students and the public in the United States sometimes encounter “degree mills” – dubious providers of educational offerings or operations that offer certificates and degrees that may be considered bogus...

International Organizations:
From the FAQs on Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization site...

Is there a single reliable reference that lists only legitimate foreign schools, screening out diploma mills?
Not to our knowledge. Foreign school evaluation is complex. The best single standard to use for bare-minimum screening is whether the schools’ degrees are fully usable as credentials for employment and acceptable at other colleges within the home country.

Does an "apostille" issued by a government body prove that a degree is genuine?
No. An apostille (sometimes called an "Apostille of the Hague") simply means that the document is a document of the sort it purports to be. No evaluation of what stands behind the document is made. An apostille affixed to a bogus degree does not make it a genuine degree.

(For information on obtaining an apostille in New Jersey, click here.)

The New Jersey Standard for Foreign Institutions...
...Regarding institutions located outside of the U.S. or its possessions, a duly authorized institution of higher education is one that is recognized by the appropriate body in the particular country provided that the institution’s requirements for awarding degrees are generally equivalent to those accepted in the U.S. by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education. (N.J.A.C 9A:1-8.1.a.2)

Foreign Transcript and Credentials Evaluations:

From a U.S. Department of Education website...

SELECTING A CREDENTIAL EVALUATION SERVICE

If the U.S. school or institution recommends that you use a specific credential evaluation service, then use the service, or one of the services, recommended by the international admissions office.

If not, then you can select a credential evaluation service yourself. You can search for credential evaluation services on the Internet, but you should know that there is no federal or state regulation of such services. However, there are two national associations of credential evaluation services that have published standards for membership, affiliations to national and international higher education associations and are frequently linked to and used by federal agencies, state agencies, educational institutions and employers.

  • National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) is an association of 19 credential evaluation services with admission standards and an enforced code of good practice.
  • Association of International Credentials Evaluators (AICE) is an association of 10 credential evaluation services with a board of advisors and an enforced code of ethics.

Neither the U.S. Department of Education nor USNEI endorses or recommends any individual credential evaluation service.

Another potential resource for attempting to determine if a foreign institution meets NJ's standard is the international office at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington, D.C.  Their searchable database is available only by fee-based registration. 

Some other potential resources for gathering information about foreign institutions of higher education, ENIC - NARIC and ENQA, are linked below.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Note: According to Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, the UNESCO database is no longer reliable as an indicator of the legitimacy of foreign schools because UNESCO has no screening function and has permitted some doubtful schools to be listed.
  • SEARCH the UNESCO Portal on Higher Education Institutions. This portal offers access to on-line information on higher education institutions recognized or otherwise sanctioned by competent authorities in participating countries. It provides students, employers and other interested parties with access to authoritative and up-to-date information on the status of higher education institutions and quality assurance in these countries.
    Higher Education - Tools for Students
    Information for students before embarking on a course of study.
ENIC - NARIC (European National Information Centres - National Academic Recognition Information Centres)
The Network is made up of the national information centres of the States party to the European Cultural Convention or the UNESCO Europe Region. An ENIC is a body set up by the national authorities. While the size and specific competence of ENIC may vary, they will generally provide information on:
  • the recognition of foreign diplomas, degrees and other qualifications;
  • education systems in both foreign countries and the ENIC’s own country;
  • opportunities for studying abroad, including information on loans and scholarships, as well as advice on practical questions related to mobility and equivalence.

ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education)
ENQA disseminates information, experiences and good practices in the field of quality assurance (QA) in higher education to European QA agencies, public authorities and higher education institutions.  The site provides information on national accrediting and evaluating bodies.


Other Resources: Federal Trade Commission:

Government Accounting Office (GAO):

U.S. Department of Labor: Employment & Training Administration
Diploma Mills in the Cyberage
This is a link to an article concerning how diploma mills have expanded via the Internet, written especially from the perspective of employers.

New Jersey School Boards Association:

New Jersey Association of School Administrators:

Other:

BrainTrack® – The Web's Most Complete Directory for University and College Search
BrainTrack lists over 10,000 higher education institutions in 194 countries and is continually updated with new schools and education resources.

College Accreditation 101 - Understanding college accreditation is an important step in choosing the right school. It can be easy to be confused or misled by the accreditation claims on college websites. BrainTrack's College Accreditation 101 section of articles provides information to help students make informed decisions about the schools they select.


Top 10 Signs: Real College Degree or Diploma Mill?

Diploma Mill News Blog
Degrees and diplomas issued by diploma mills are frequently used for fraudulent purposes, such as obtaining employment, promotions, raises, or bonuses on false pretenses. Diploma Mill News provides excerpts of articles and press releases related to bogus degrees.

Several Diploma Mill Articles from Degree.net

States Struggle to Regulate Online Colleges That Lack Accreditation
From the March 23, 2001 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Degree Mills: The Impact on Students and Society
From the Fall 2008 issue of International Higher Education, The quarterly publication of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education (CIHE).

How to Identify and Avoid Fake Online Degrees
from eLearners.com

Beware of illegitimate 'diploma mills'
by Heather Pfleger Dunham, Dean for Student Learning Outcomes
Assessment at Centenary College

Reference Guide: Online Degree & Education Resources
This comprehensive guide has been created for current students and teachers as a reference with essential online tools and resources. This guide will also help prospective students learn more about online education.


Last Updated: Wednesday, 12/04/13

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