Important Questions About Degree 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. They may also encounter “accreditation mills” – dubious providers of accreditation and quality assurance that may offer a certification of quality of institutions without a proper basis.
Degree mills and accreditation mills mislead and harm. In the United States, degrees and certificates from mills may not be acknowledged by other institutions when students seek to transfer or go to graduate school. Employers may not acknowledge degrees and certificates from degree mills when providing tuition assistance for continuing education. “Accreditation” from an accreditation mill can mislead students and the public about the quality of an institution. In the presence of degree mills and accreditation mills, students may spend a good deal of money and receive neither an education nor a useable credential.
This Website contains five major sections. The first section provides links to information about institutions and programs that are accredited by recognized U.S. accrediting organizations. The second section includes links to material on how accreditation operates and how to look for organizations that may be accreditation mills. The third section focuses on degree mills: links to potentially pertinent information and information on how degree mills may be identified. The fourth section provides links to state-by-state information on institutions and programs authorized to operate in the respective states. Some of these states also provide information about entities they believe to be degree mills. The fifth section contains links to international directories of higher education institutions.
Degree Mills: An Old Problem and a New Threat
A review of degree mills and their impact on students and society.
NOTHING ON THIS WEBSITE SHALL BE DEEMED TO STATE A CONCLUSION BY CHEA AS TO WHETHER A PARTICULAR ENTITY IS OR IS NOT A DEGREE MILL OR AN ACCREDITATION MILL.
ALTHOUGH GOVERNMENT BODIES, THE COUNCIL FOR HIGHER EDUCATION ACCREDITATION (CHEA) AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS CAN PROVIDE POTENTIALLY RELEVANT INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC, ULTIMATELY STUDENTS AND OTHERS OFTEN MUST DETERMINE FOR THEMSELVES WHETHER THEY ARE DEALING WITH A DEGREE MILL OR AN ACCREDITATION MILL.
INFORMATION OF THE KIND THIS WEBSITE PROVIDES IS LIKELY TO CHANGE OFTEN, AND ALTHOUGH CHEA MAY UPDATE THE WEBSITE FROM TIME TO TIME, CHEA CANNOT ASSURE THAT THE WEBSITE WILL BE CURRENT.
Accredited Institutions and Programs
How can I determine if an institution or program is accredited by a recognized accrediting organization?
“Accreditation” is a process of external quality review used by higher education to scrutinize colleges, universities and educational programs for quality assurance and quality improvement. In the United States, accreditation is carried out by private, non-profit organizations designed for this specific purpose. Institutions and educational programs seek accredited status as a means of demonstrating their academic quality to students and the public and to become eligible for federal funds.
This database contains contact information for over 8,200 degree-granting and non-degree granting institutions and over 44,000 programs accredited by United States accrediting organizations that have been recognized either by CHEA or by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or both.
USDE Postsecondary Education Institutions and Programs Accredited by Accrediting Agencies and State Approval Agencies Recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education
This database lists approximately 30,000 postsecondary educational institutions and programs, each of which is accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Some accrediting organizations and their institutions and programs appear in both the CHEA database and the USDE database. Others may appear in one but not both. Whether in the CHEA or USDE database, accrediting organizations identified in the database have been “recognized.”
What accrediting organizations are recognized?
“Recognition” is a process of review of the quality and effectiveness of accrediting organizations. This review is carried out either by CHEA (a private body) or the federal government through the USDE. CHEA’s primary purpose is to assure and strengthen academic quality and ongoing quality improvement in courses, programs and degrees. CHEA’s recognition is based on five standards that include, e.g., advancing academic quality and encouraging needed improvement. The USDE’s primary purpose is to assure that federal student aid funds are purchasing quality courses and programs. USDE’s recognition is based on ten standards that include attention to, e.g., recruitment and admissions practices, fiscal and administrative capacity and facilities.
Chart of Accrediting Organizations Recognized by CHEA or the U.S. Department of Education.
This chart lists regional, faith-based, private career and programmatic accreditors that are or have been recognized by CHEA or the USDE or both.
How can I learn more about accreditation?
CHEA: The Fundamentals of Accreditation – What Do You Need to Know?
This document uses a question-and-answer format to provide information about the role and value of accreditation.
CHEA Research and Publications
This Website contains links to CHEA fact sheets, letters and publications dealing with a range of topics related to accreditation. Among the subjects included are quality in distance learning, student learning outcomes and the accreditation process.
How can I determine if an accrediting organization may be a mill?
If the answers to many of the following questions are "yes," the accrediting organization under consideration may be a "mill":
- Does the operation allow accredited status to be purchased?
- Does the operation publish lists of institutions or programs they claim to have accredited without those institutions and programs knowing that they are listed or have been accredited?
- Does the operation claim that it is recognized (by, e.g., USDE or CHEA) when it is not?
- Are few if any standards for quality published by the operation?
- Is a very short period of time required to achieve accredited status?
- Are accreditation reviews routinely confined to submitting documents and do not include site visits or interviews of key personnel by the accrediting organization?
- Is "permanent" accreditation granted without any requirement for subsequent periodic review, either by an external body or by the organization itself?
- Does the operation use organizational names similar to recognized accrediting organizations?
- Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?
There are accrediting organizations that may not be recognized but are not accreditation mills. For example, the accreditor may be seeking recognition, but the process is not complete. Or the accreditor does not meet the requirements of CHEA or USDE for reasons that do not relate to quality.
What questions should I ask to determine whether a degree provider is a "mill"?
If the answers to many of the following questions are "yes," the degree provider under consideration may be a "mill":
- Can degrees be purchased?
- Is there a claim of accreditation when there is no evidence of this status?
- Is there a claim of accreditation from a questionable accrediting organization?
- Does the operation lack state or federal licensure or authority to operate?
- Is little if any attendance required of students, either online or in class?
- Are few assignments required for students to earn credits?
- Is a very short period of time required to earn a degree?
- Are degrees available based solely on experience or resume review?
- Are there few requirements for graduation?
- 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?
- Does the operation fail to provide a list of its faculty and their qualifications?
- Does the operation have a name similar to other well-known colleges and universities?
- 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.
Where can I find additional information about organizations believed to be “degree mills”?
USDE: Diploma Mills and Accreditation
This USDE Website provides information that is helpful in identifying a degree mill.
USDE: U.S. Network for Education Information (USNEI) – Fraud, Abuse, and Related Problems
This USDE Website deals with education fraud and abuse.
GetEducated.com: Consumer Alert – Top Ten Signs – Online Diploma Mills and Degree Mills
This article provides information on operations that may be online degree mills.
eLearners.com: Information about Diploma Mills
This resource also provides information concerning how to determine if an online program is legitimate.
FTC Consumer Alert: Diploma Mills: Degrees of Deception
This link to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides information that may help members of the public to determine whether a program or school is legitimate.
How can employers determine whether the degrees that employees and applicants for employment have received are legitimate?
FTC Facts for Business: Avoid Fake Degree Burns by Researching Academic Credentials
This FTC article provides information to assist employers in identifying bogus degrees.
U.S. Department of Labor: 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.
National Student Clearing House
The National Student Clearing House offers employers a degree verification service. At present, records are available for approximately 1,000 institutions.
State Information on Institutions Licensed or Authorized to Operate
The state links provide information about institutions and programs approved to operate in a particular state in the United States. State approval and accreditation are not the same. State approval to operate signifies that institutions have satisfied certain minimum requirements established by a state. Accreditation signifies that an institution has attained a threshold level of academic quality. In most states, approval to operate does not require accreditation. Please use all available resources, including checking with the particular institution and its accrediting organization, to determine if a particular institution meets anticipated needs.
Some states, such as California, Oregon and Minnesota, maintain Websites about degree mills and accreditation mills. Some states, including Oregon and Michigan, provide specific lists of non-accredited schools and non-approved accrediting organizations. Other states, such as Hawaii, Michigan and Maine, have passed specific regulations or legislation to address the issue of degree mills. These links have been included to help in an investigation of degree mills and accreditation mills.
Internationally, degree mills and accreditation mills are a disservice to the public in several ways. United States degree mills and accreditation mills that have become items for export cast doubt on the reliability of legitimate United States degrees and accreditation. Students from outside the United States can be vulnerable because often they have limited information and experience by which to judge whether or not a United States operation is a “mill.” Governments outside the United States seeking to learn about accredited status of United States operations can be vulnerable as well. Unsuspecting students and governments of other countries may know only that a provider is “American” and not be aware that it is a mill.
USDE: National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFMEA)
This NCFMEA Website includes a list of countries that in the USDE’s view have accreditation standards for medical schools that are comparable to standards applied to U.S. medical schools.
USDE: U.S. Network for Education Information (USNEI) International Institutional Directories
The countries listed in this database are those for which USNEI has located educational links other than the embassy to the United States and individual institutions.