This page considers 'degree mills' or 'diploma mills',
entities whose primary - often only - requirement for
granting a tertiary qualification is whether your credit
card is working.
It covers -
following page considers questions about law, enforcement
and confusion. It also points to government and academic
studies regarding the diploma mills industry and its impact.
The note supplements discussion elsewhere on this site
regarding résumé fraud, spam and identity
verification services. It complements exploration of online
education and essay
mills (ie plagiarism services that sell essays/assignments
Degree mills are unaccredited entities that grant academic
degrees and diplomas with little or no academic study,
for example on the basis of 'life experience' and a two
page essay. Some of the more outrageous mills will issue
a backdated PhD or MBA simply in return for payment of
a few hundred dollars.
One critic quipped that mills will award a degree to anyone
whose body is warm and whose cash is cold. It is thus
unsurprising to encounter family pets with doctoral degrees
and graduate diplomas; one of our more irreverent contacts
bought an MBA in the name of his car.
Degree mills predate the internet (and the telegraph),
with unaccredited institutions being discernable from
at least 1800 and 'mail order diplomas' taking off in
the 1850s. They exist to meet the demand for decoration
- postmodern dogs, cats and budgerigars apparently demand
a nicely framed BSc, PhD or DipEd - and to serve the demand
for academic credentials to impress peers and fill out
Their survival reflects the gullibility of consumers:
those who buy fake qualifications and those who accept
that certification. Survival reflects the preparedness
of business to exploit weaknesses in US and other law.
Those weaknesses encompass the inadequacy of some statute
law and laziness by government agencies in enforcing enactments
about accreditation and consumer protection. It also reflects
the preparedness of some mill operators to initiate defamation
litigation in order to silence critics.
Degree mills typically come to community consciousness
through receipt of spam - for
example five messages received on one day offering a doctorate
for US$500 (with an MBA thrown in for a further US$150!)
- and when a corporate executive or other public figure
is revealed to have padded a curriculum vitae by purchasing
a degree that has the credibility of the giveaways in
a cereal packet but without the flavour.
They are of interest because they illustrate comments
about trust, credentialism and regulation elsewhere in
this site and because they have muddied the emergence
of online courseware providers.
Some have gone beyond granting their own dubious degrees
and fraudulently issued degrees that purport to be from
legitimate institutions such as Oxford and the London
School of Economics.
Figures about the number of mills and their customer base
That uncertainty reflects disagreement about accreditation,
discussed below. It also reflects the evanescent nature
of some mills, which - like many fraudsters - operate
on the basis of extracting as much money as possible before
being forced to change name/address after action by government
Critics such as John Bear
note that between 100 and 400 unaccredited 'universities'
were in operation in 2005. Dixie and Steven Randock of
the US pleaded guilty in 2008 to to mail and wire fraud
regarding operation of over 120 fictitious universities
(and several accreditation mills), including James Monroe
University and St Regis University. Studies in Sweden
indicate that there may have been 800 degree mills in
operation in 2004.
Some of those institutions had a campus that consisted
of the operator's spare bedroom or garage, others had
a single building but a faculty of only two people (both
of whose qualifications had been granted by another mill).
On the basis of legal proceedings against particular US
and Romanian mills it appears that the business of granting
degrees to all and sundry can be lucrative, with claims
for example that some mills have received up to US$10
million in a year.
In suggesting that the aggregate revenue of the US industry
might be up to US$200 million per year Bear notes indications
that some mills have granted up to 500 illicit PhD degrees
per month, a figure that appears consistent with response
rates for spam. Belated prosecution of James Kirk (aka
Thomas McPherson) - reportedly the face behind entities
such as Southland University, LaSalle University and Edison
University - revealed assets of over US$35 million, including
US$10 million cash.
In the past advertising by mills featured in minor newspapers,
nonspecialist journals and even comics (eg along with
ads for x-ray spectacles and itching powder). Like similar
scams, degree mills have migrated online because internet
marketing is more cost effective than print. Many of the
supposed institutions do not bother with a web site, instead
relying wholly on email, a phone number and a post office
Much of the appeal of degree mills is to laziness, insecurity
and resentment. Spam offers, for example, centre on instant
certification for a credentialist society.
One offer thus claims
required tests, classes, books, or interviews. No one
is turned down. Confidentiality assured. CALL NOW to
receive your diploma within days!!!
reassurance that critics
are people who have frittered away years in classrooms
absorbing blindly and thoughtlessly second hand information
in a theoretical environment completely removed from
real life, and for what? In order to acquire the right
to use the same Title or post-nominal letters that you
can legally acquire in a matter of days for the price
a meal in a decent restaurant.
Who is really smarter? You are the one called to the
front of the queue in airports; you are the one getting
the free upgrade to first class; you are the one sitting
at the good table not too near the band overlooking
the river; you are the one dazzling your future employers
with your skills and abilities at an interview rather
than having your Resumé ditched by a computer
programmed to scan all applications and send rejection
slips to perfectly capable applicants who happen not
to have a degree; The benefits are endless.
The degrees available thru us are obtained thru the
exploitation of legal loopholes, but legally that does
not make them of any less worth of a "worked for"
fall for the fake medical degrees or other fake online
degrees scam! They may be cheap, but they are easily
caught and not accepted anywhere in the world! Make
the wiser choice and get yourself an accredited, original
medical degree based on your life experience (work experience,
previous education, special training and more). You
can get a degree in any major that you desire in just
We offer accredited and original degrees that are awarded
by the distinguished Rochville University and hold worldwide
recognition and acceptance. We provide you with not
only an authentic degree, but a complete degree package
with 10 academic documents, wherein each document bears
a 'gold plated' seal of the university. Moreover, the
degree resembles any other traditional degree and has
no words like 'online' or 'life experience' on it.
required tests, classes, books, or interviews.
Diplomas are available include but are not limited to:
Bachelors, Masters, MBA, and Doctorate (PhD)
Available in any field of your choice.
Everyone is approved, Never is anyone turned down.
"University of Berkley Online' [sic] advertised degrees
with "no studies, no exams... no attendance (and)
Some consumers are clearly paying a bit more than the
price of a meal, both for the problematical degree and
once their use is exposed.
Recent incidents have included -
Matthews, CIO for the US federal Department of Transportation
(oversighting the Transportation Security Administration),
acquired a US$3,500 BSc degree from Louisiana-based
federal Labor Department and Department of Homeland
Security czar Laura Callahan recurrently boasted of
her PhD in computer information systems, alas from Hamilton
University, just around the corner from Brokeback Mountain.
Chelsea footballer and Liberian presidential candidate
George Weah was found to have a degree from the fictitious
Parkwood University in London
Kong legislator Philip Wong was criticised for claiming
a PhD in engineering from California Coast University
and a juris doctorate from Southland University
Australian jurist Marcus Einfeld QC claimed a PhD from
Pacific Western University and a LLD from Century University.
was run by the Faith in the Order of Nature Fellowship
Church (FION), a tax exempt "nonprofit theocentric
institution of higher learning" that is self-accredited
by its own American Council of Private Colleges &
FION deliciously accepts
education as equal in Nature. We offer recognition and
special designations to those who have achieved higher
levels of understanding regardless if obtained naturally
grants a doctorate on the basis of a five hour correspondence
course plus US$3,600 fee.
We have discussed resume
fraud and verification services
in more detail elsewhere on this site.
In summary, detection of fake degrees involves activities
vetting agency or employer checking whether an institution
exists and whether it is accredited (ie whether its
operation as an education institution and issuer of
tertiary qualifications is recognised by government
or an appropriate nongovernment body)
whether the recipient of the degree actually attended
the institutions and gained a degree (with some public
figures, for example, having been found to falsely claim
receipt of degrees from real universities)
discrepancies in a curriculum vitae (eg someone claiming
to have obtained a multi-year degree through attendance
at a university while holding a full time job in another
a diploma or academic transcript (with some pretenders
being exposed when they could not produce the paperwork
or instead supplied a crude mock-up).
detection appears to involve research by journalists and
colleagues after a CV is publicised following the degree-holder's
appointment to an executive position or - as in the case
of Laura Callahan - the individual boasts to peers and
colleagues about supposed qualifications.
Phony hunting - especially scrutiny of superior's qualifications
in a 'revenge of the underlings' - is one of the more
delightful bureaucratic blood sports. It is also a reminder
that expectations about trust evolve to keep pace with
anonymist societies: people do not necessarily take things
at face value.
Australia and New Zealand
It is recurrently claimed that degree mills are not a
problem for Australia. Such claims are incorrect, given
by Australians and New Zealanders of qualifications
from overseas degree mills
of fake degrees by Australians (and by overseas nationals
working in Australia and New Zealand) in employment
operation of degree mills that are based in Australia
Brown's 2004 Protecting Australia's Higher Education
discusses a number of Australian mills, most apparently
targeting consumers outside Australia and often claiming
to be located overseas.
Australia and New Zealand, along with the UK, restrict
use of the term university. In Australia it is a offence
for an operator to label
an entity as a university, or issue
university degrees, unless that entity was formally authorised
through an act of federal or state parliament. (One issue
under Australian and some overseas law is tacit acceptance
of use of the term 'university' by corporate training
programs, such as those run by McDonalds and Google.)
In New Zealand there has been debate over litigation by
the University of Newlands, a commercial entity that offers
online distance education and that sued the publishers
of the Australian after the web version of that newspaper
characterised it as a diploma mill.
The publisher's lawyer argued that because the NZ Education
Act prohibits unauthorised use of the term university
and "purporting to offer degrees", the degrees
are worthless. He also argued that the "University"
either had no reputation to harm, or already had a bad
Associate Judge David Gendell rejected comments that the
degrees were worthless, saying that while they might be
illegal - and that purporting to offer such degrees could
be deemed dishonest or unethical conduct - "it does
not follow logically that they are worthless". Some
degrees, of course, are worth more than others.
Gendell echoed the Gutnick
decision by Australia's High Court in ruling that defamation
occurs in the country where the material is downloaded.
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