DATE: March 2008 - The College Degree: Fact or Fiction
Receiving a college degree is supposed to be one of the greatest accomplishments of a lifetime. The excitement of finishing, the feeling
of success and the prospect of a bright future ahead are just a few of the benefits that come with a college education. For some, the
work that comes with receiving a college education is simply viewed as a requirement of the curriculum. However for other people the
work is only a waste of time. How is it possible to receive a college degree without completing the required curriculum? The answer: A
What is a Degree Mill?
While there is no agreed upon definition of what a Degree Mill is, Wikipedia defines it as “an organization that awards academic
degrees (and diplomas) with substandard or no academic study, and without recognition by official accrediting bodies. These degrees
are often awarded based on life experience.” The practices of Degree Mills were first recognized in 1876 by U.S. Commissioner of
Education John Eaton, an 1854 Dartmouth graduate who referred to such institutions as a disgrace to American education.
While the practice of obtaining a degree issued by a Degree Mill is by no means original, the industry has been rejuvenated in recent
years by way of the internet, soaring these Mills to an estimated billion dollar profit. Perhaps the lure of these Mills is the ease of their
accessibility. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can find your way to institutions such as Belford University or Ashwood University
that offer degrees delivered right to your door in just 7 days for about $450 in fields such as Nursing, Accounting and Information
Technology. Further enhancing the lure is that many Degree Mills are now offering verification services that ensure your “credentials”
will be verified for inquiring employers or education institutions.
Don’t be Fooled by Accreditation.
A standard practice for any established academic institution is to maintain accreditation through an official accrediting body. Degree
Mills are clever entities though. Many claim their institutions are fully accredited and therefore offer legitimate degrees. While it is true
that many Degree Mills are “accredited,” they are often accredited by bodies that are established by the Mill themselves.
In an effort to validate the legitimacy of accreditation, all legitimate accrediting bodies are required to be registered with either The
Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and/or U.S. Department of Education (USDE) (NAPBS Journal, 2008). The CHEA
and USDE are organizations that provide a national advocacy for self-regulation of academic quality through the practice of
accreditation, providing scrutiny and certification of the quality of higher education accrediting bodies. This includes specific accrediting
bodies focused on areas such as faith-based and career specific agencies and regional accrediting bodies such as liberal arts
agencies (NAPBS, Journal 2008). It is the duty of the CHEA and the USDE to provide scrutiny to accrediting bodies, ensuring programs
comply with the standards expected of institutions of higher education.
My Employees Would Never “Purchase” a Degree!
While it is true that a majority of people would never resort to the use of a Degree Mill to advance their education and career, no
employer is immune to the liability of such a degree. In 2004, Laura Callahan, a Senior Director of The Department of Homeland
Security, resigned when it was discovered that her Doctorate Degree was issued by Hamilton University, a known Degree Mill located in
Wyoming. The mill has since relocated to the Bahamas using the name “Richardson University.”
Similarly, Charles Abell, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, obtained his Master’s Degree from
Columbus University, a Degree Mill which was closed by the state of Louisiana as one of the 12 famous Degree Mills labeled the “Dirty
Dozen” (Irish Times, 1998). Daniel Matthews, Chief Information Officer for the Department of Transportation, received his Bachelor’s
Degree from Kent College in Louisiana. The cost? $3,500.
What is being done about these mills?
While some states like New Jersey and Oregon have been successful in adopting legislation that combat Degree Mills, most states
have been less successful. When the dust settles, a Degree Mill is simply a business that has the same right to operate as the any
other business. Legislators in some states have argued that Degree Mills are operating on a fraudulent basis. However as long as no
false claims are made with respect to the degree issued, very few of these arguments have been successful. In addition, many states
have non-descript laws on the books that infer possessing a degree issued by a Degree Mill is not is crime but rather a constitutional
Regardless of the circumstances, it has become clear that fraudulent degrees are everywhere and that identifying such degrees sits
solely on the inquiring party, whether it is an institution of higher education or a potential employer. It’s an “employer beware” world, so
next time someone flashes a degree in front of you, just think of Due, because if he can do it, anyone can!
Commercial Investigations LLC
• Lack of accreditation by a body
recognized by the CHEA and/or
• Lack of .edu domain name
• Schools website list no faculty
• Degree earned in weeks rather
than months or years
• Tuition paid in a lump sum amount
(often between $500 and $4500)
• Institution frequently changes
addresses and physical location