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Degree Mills: Deceiving Online Students since the 1990’s

These days, even household pets can obtain a college degree—as long as they can pay for it. Recently, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office exposed one of hundreds of bogus online “universities” in an undercover operation that ended with Colby Nolan, a pet cat, being issued an executive MBA degree. However, this shutdown represents only the tip of the iceberg commonly known as “degree mills.”

Degree mills prey on people seeking flexible, affordable higher learning by offering an attractive package for fake degrees that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Though hundreds of legitimate online campuses exist, these persistent scam operations undermine the efforts of honest universities to provide a means for those who are unable to attend traditional schools to further their education and careers. The typical degree mill operates for a short time, usually six months to a year, and grabs as many tuition fees as they can before closing up shop, changing the name of their “university,” and reopening to do it all over again.

The rhetoric degree mills use to, attract students, is undeniably alluring to the typical pressed-for-time people who seek online education. Most promise a degree in thirty days or less; with no class work or grades involved and no questions asked. The only requirement for enrolling in a degree mill is a valid credit card. Once you’re charged a flat fee—anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars—you are sent an impressive-looking diploma and official transcripts, all without reading a single textbook or writing so much as one essay or term paper. For many, this seems the ideal solution to the problem of earning a college degree.

Employers, however, are not impressed. The use of degree mill certification to gain employment is a growing problem, and in many situations can be downright dangerous. People have passed themselves off as “doctors” and subsequently caused serious harm or even death for their patients. Recent investigations have uncovered top government officials who have secured their positions with diplomas from degree mills. Businesses and government sectors are taking steps to declare holding a degree from a fake online school a crime—and this is especially bad news for the thousands who aren’t aware the school they have enrolled in is a scam.

If you’re considering distance learning, be sure to check thoroughly into the schools you’d like to attend before you hand over your credit card. Run the university’s name through the Better Business Bureau at to find out whether there are excessive complaints lodged against them. Never enroll in a school that promises a degree in thirty days or less, or one that claims to “convert your life experience into a college degree.” You can take steps to protect yourself against fraud and avoid the degree mill trap.

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