Diploma & Accreditation Mills

Students do not pay for degrees. They pay for education. Purchasing an unearned degree is a waste of your money, does not prepare you to enter your profession, and could potentially damage your future career outlook. You should be aware of fraudulent institutions and be certain that your education is legitimate.

The number of fake or unaccredited institutions and programs is rising dramatically. These organizations, also known as diploma mills, often offer high-cost, low-effort degrees.

Businesses and the government are examining employees’ credentials more thoroughly to ensure they earned their degrees from a legitimate institution. Citing a purchased degree on your resume may be considered fraud in some states and in many countries. Even worse, you won’t have learned anything of any value.

ABET accreditation is one way of guaranteeing the legitimacy of your program, avoiding the trap of diploma mills. Also known as degree mills, they award degrees and diplomas with substandard or no academic study and without recognition by official accrediting bodies. ABET accreditation assures you that your program provides the knowledge and skills necessary to enter your chosen profession.

What are diploma mills?

Diploma mills or degree mills tend to have drastically lower requirements for academic coursework, with some even allowing students to purchase credentials without any educational activity. Students may be required to purchase textbooks, submit homework, and take tests, but degrees are nonetheless conferred after little or no study. Diploma mills are motivated by profit and often claim accreditation by non-recognized or unapproved accrediting bodies (accreditation mills) set up for the purposes of providing an appearance of authenticity.

What are accreditation mills?

An accreditation mill is an organization that awards educational accreditation to higher education programs without having government authority or recognition from mainstream academia to operate as an accreditor. Accreditation mills are much like diploma mills and, in many cases, are closely associated with diploma mills. The “accreditation” they grant has no legal or academic value but is used in diploma mill marketing to help attract students.

Avoiding diploma and accreditation mills

Several national and international bodies publish lists of accreditors that are known to lack the necessary legal authority or recognition. Most legitimate accrediting organizations in the United States are recognized by either the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education. ABET has been recognized by CHEA since 1997.

Watch CHEA’s short video on how you can avoid being fooled by an accreditation or diploma mill.

Characteristics of accreditation mills

CHEA also provides a list of attributes of accreditation mills to help us identify them. An accreditation operation might be a “mill” if it:

  • Allows accreditation to be purchased.
  • Allows institutions to attain accredited status in a very short period of time.
  • Does not conduct site visits or interview key personnel as part of its accreditation process, instead reviewing institutions solely on the basis of submitted documents.
  • Grants “permanent” accreditation, with no requirement for periodic review.
  • Claims recognition from an authority such as CHEA without appearing on lists of accreditors recognized by that authority.
  • Has a name that is very similar to the name of a recognized accrediting organization.
  • Publishes a list of institutions or programs that it has accredited without the knowledge of the listed institutions and programs.
  • Publishes claims for which there is no evidence.