Accreditation & Diploma Mills
Federal, State, International, and Other Resources
It is important
to note that there are many legitimate and accredited
online degrees. Not all, or even most, online
schools or traditional, "bricks and mortar" institutions
with online course and/or degree offerings are unaccredited
or "diploma mills."
terms "unaccredited" and "diploma mill" are
sometimes improperly treated as
fact, there are a wide range of institutions representing
colleges or universities that grant degrees but do not
meet New Jersey standards.
At one end
of the spectrum are the outright diploma or degree mills
claiming "accreditation" by unrecognized accreditation
mills, the "no
questions asked diploma replacement services", the "Life
Experience" degree providers, or the providers of "novelty
diplomas for entertainment purposes only". These
businesses will offer, in return for payment,
to provide a diploma, and in some
transcript, a telephone verification
employer letters, "Honors" for an extra fee,
attempt to use such a "degree" in
New Jersey may well be considered a violation of NJ.S.A.
18A:3-15.2. Use of fraudulent degree and subject
one to substantial penalties. Some
tips on evaluating an institution to determine if it
is likely a "mill" are available below.
Some such "schools" may
purport to be offering you credit for "life
but will ask only for you to briefly describe
your qualifying "experience" on a web form.
Legitimate institutions sometimes grant some credit
for work experience
and non-collegiate training, but they require extensive
documentation, evaluation, review, and/or testing
before granting a relatively small portion of the credits
for a degree based on such experience.
At the other end of the spectrum
are institutions that may not be accredited but are not degree
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 the quality of their offerings.
There is a
broad range of variation in quality between these extremes.
New Jersey law
A person or other legal entity shall not use, or attempt
use, in connection with any business, trade, profession or
any academic degree or certification of degree or degree credit,
including but not limited to a transcript of course work, which
has been fraudulently issued, obtained, forged or altered. A person
shall not, with intent to deceive, falsely represent himself as
having received any such degree or credential.
New Jersey (and in several other states), an even stricter
standard applies to the appending of titles or
name which indicate
higher education degree; i.e., associates,
bachelors, masters, or doctorate. Doing so is prohibited
in New Jersey unless
was conferred by:
the relevant New
Jersey statutes and regulations and verify
the accreditation status of the institution
before you use or claim a college degree in
New Jersey. A
list of New Jersey licensed institutions is
and the database of institutions accredited
by accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S.
Secretary of Education
is available here. If
the institution from which you have received
a degree is not licensed by the NJ Commission
on Higher Education
and does not appear in the database, with institutional
accreditation by a recognized regional
accrediting body, it is unlawful in
New Jersey to append the letters associated
name, e.g., Dr.,
Ph.D., Ed.D., M.S., B.A., etc.
can use these tools to confirm the accreditation status of
from which an applicant claims a degree, but you should also verify the
coursework and/or degree information claimed with that higher
education institution. See Avoid
Fake-Degree Burns By Researching Academic Credentials, from the Federal Trade Commission.
K-12 Educators... The
New Jersey Department of Education generally requires that
coursework and degrees submitted in conjunction with an application
for certification or endorsement be from a regionally
accredited college or university.
Agencies and State Approval Agencies Recognized by the U.S.
Secretary of Education and/or the Council
for Higher Education Accreditation
a generally recognized standard for determining the "vaildity"
or "acceptability" of higher education degrees or
New Jersey requires recognized regional
accreditation, as well as state licensure (in states
with licensure laws), because the rigor of state licensing
Jersey is considered by many to have among the stronger laws
area. Approval or licensure by a state government alone
is not accreditation,
unless the approval is licensure by the New Jersey Commission
on Higher Education.
becoming a victim... check the accreditation
status of an institution before enrolling, sending money,
hiring someone based
on degrees or transcripts from that institution. This
page provides links to the searchable online databases
maintained by the U.S. Department
of Education and the Council
for Higher Education Accreditation.
Their website says they're accredited... Many
degree mills and institutions which are not accredited by bodies
by the U.S. Secretary
of Education or by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation
represent themselves as being accredited by organizations with
names. Many of these are "accreditation mills". They boast
impressive websites and lists of institutions they claim to
accredit, and they have often been created by the bogus schools
themselves to impart
a false sense of
Impressive web sites
or .edu web addresses are not a reliable indication
that a "school" is accredited by a recognized
accreditor or that you will be able to use the "degree" they
must be okay! I saw an ad in a widely circulated and
respected newspaper or magazine! Unfortunately,
many such publications routinely run ads from unaccredited
schools and outright diploma mills.
What questions should I ask to determine
whether a degree provider is a “mill”?
the Council for Higher
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
Does the operation
lack state or federal
or authority to operate?
Is little if any
either online or
Are few assignments
students to earn credits?
Is a very short
period of time
earn a degree?
based solely on
provide any information
a post office
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.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's
Better Business Bureau suggests you watch for the following
considering whether or not to enroll in a school:
Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited
postsecondary institution, an example would be earning
a Bachelor's degree in a few months.
A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too
impressive. Often, these schools will list accreditation
that are not recognized by the U.S.
Department of Education
or the Council
for Higher Education Accreditation
two reputable organizations that recognize accrediting
These schools will also imply official approval by
mentioning state registration or licensing.
Offers that place unrealistic emphasis on offering
college credits for lifetime or real world experience.
Tuition paid on a per-degree basis, or discounts
for enrolling in multiple degree programs. Accredited
by credit hours, course, or semester.
Little or no interaction with professors.
Names that are similar to well known reputable
Addresses that are box numbers or suites. That
campus may very well be a mail drop box or
With the increase in the availability
of earning degrees online there has been an
often use the Internet to market their
programs. Diploma mills often promise degrees for
a fee in a few short
days or months.
the New Jersey Statutes and Regulations below for information
on using or claiming a degree in New Jersey.
|May 6, 2010 -An Act requiring that
certain conditions be met in order
for school districts
their employees with tuition assistance
coursework or additional
compensation upon acquisition of academic
or completion of a degree program, passed
the General Assembly, has now passed
both houses, and has been
signed by the Governor. P.L. 2010, Chapter
Check back here for updates on legislative
activity and any new laws which may be
Jersey Department of Education:
maintain listings of known unaccredited
Please note that such listings are almost always incomplete,
as phony schools can appear and disappear within days or
hours, particularly on the Internet.
A number of other
states also provide
on this topic. Links
to many are available
here through the CHEA
Department of Education:
Listing of Postsecondary Educational Institutions
and Programs Accredited by Accrediting
Agencies and State Approval Agencies Recognized
by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
The U.S. Department of Education recommends that their
database be used as one source of qualitative information
and that additional sources of qualitative
information be consulted. One such resource
is the Council for Higher
Education Accreditation Database linked below.
Accreditation in the United States
...The goal of accreditation is to ensure
that education provided by institutions of higher education
acceptable levels of quality...
...Diploma mills are schools that are
more interested in taking your money than providing
you with a quality
education. You need to know how to protect yourself
as a consumer.
...In some states*, it
can be illegal to use a degree from an institution that is
by a nationally recognized
agency, unless approved by the state licensing agency.
* New Jersey is one such
U.S. Network for Education Information Links:
for Higher Education Accreditation:
Database of Institutions Accredited By Recognized United
States Accrediting Organizations
the Public About Accreditation
review of the quality of higher education
and programs. In the United States, accreditation
is a major way that students, families, government
officials, and the press know that an institution
or program provides a quality education...
From the FAQs on Oregon's Office of Degree
Is there a single
reliable reference that lists only legitimate
foreign schools, screening out diploma mills?
Not to our knowledge. Foreign school evaluation
is complex. The best single standard to use
for bare-minimum screening is whether the schools’ degrees
are fully usable as credentials for employment and acceptable at
other colleges within the home country.
Does an "apostille" issued
by a government body prove that a degree is
No. An apostille (sometimes called an "Apostille of the Hague")
simply means that the document is a document of the sort it purports
to be. No evaluation of what stands behind the document is made.
An apostille affixed to a bogus degree does
not make it a genuine degree.
(For information on obtaining an apostille
in New Jersey,
The New Jersey Standard
for Foreign Institutions...
...Regarding institutions located outside
of the U.S. or its possessions, a duly authorized institution
of higher education is one that is recognized by the appropriate
body in the particular country provided that the institution’s
requirements for awarding degrees are generally equivalent
to those accepted in the U.S. by an accrediting body recognized
by the U.S. Secretary of Education. (N.J.A.C 9A:1-8.1.a.2)
Foreign Transcript and Credentials Evaluations:
From a U.S.
Department of Education website...
CREDENTIAL EVALUATION SERVICE
If the U.S. school or institution recommends that
you use a specific credential evaluation service, then
use the service, or one of the services, recommended
by the international admissions office.
If not, then you can select a credential evaluation
service yourself. You can search for credential evaluation
services on the Internet, but you should know that
there is no federal or state regulation of such services.
However, there are two national associations of credential
evaluation services that have published standards for
membership, affiliations to national and international
higher education associations and are frequently linked
to and used by federal agencies, state agencies, educational
institutions and employers.
National Association of
Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) is
an association of 19 credential evaluation services
with admission standards and an enforced code
of good practice.
Association of International
Credentials Evaluators (AICE) is
an association of 10 credential evaluation services
with a board of advisors and an enforced code
Neither the U.S. Department of Education nor USNEI
endorses or recommends any individual credential
Another potential resource for attempting
to determine if a foreign institution meets NJ's standard is
at the American
Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in
Washington, D.C. Their searchable database is available
only by fee-based registration.
Some other potential resources for gathering information about
foreign institutions of higher education, ENIC
- NARIC and ENQA,
are linked below.
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO): Note: According
to Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, the
UNESCO database is no longer reliable as an indicator
of the legitimacy of foreign schools because UNESCO
has no screening function and has permitted some
doubtful schools to be listed.
SEARCH the UNESCO
Portal on Higher Education Institutions
This portal offers access to on-line information on higher
education institutions recognized or otherwise sanctioned by
competent authorities in participating countries. It provides
students, employers and other interested parties with access
to authoritative and up-to-date information on the status of
higher education institutions and quality assurance in these
Higher Education - Tools for Students
Information for students before embarking on a course of study.
- NARIC (European National Information Centres - National Academic
Recognition Information Centres)
The Network is made up of the national information centres of the
States party to the European Cultural Convention or the UNESCO
Europe Region. An ENIC is a body set up by the national authorities.
While the size and specific competence of ENIC may vary, they will
generally provide information on:
the recognition of foreign diplomas, degrees
and other qualifications;
education systems in both foreign countries
and the ENIC’s
opportunities for studying abroad, including
information on loans and scholarships, as
well as advice on practical
related to mobility and equivalence.
Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education)
ENQA disseminates information, experiences and good practices
in the field of quality assurance (QA) in higher education to
European QA agencies, public authorities and higher education
institutions. The site provides information on national accrediting
and evaluating bodies.
U.S. Department of Labor:
Employment & Training Administration
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.
School Boards Association:
Association of School Administrators:
BrainTrack® – The
Web's Most Complete Directory for
University and College Search
BrainTrack lists over 10,000
higher education institutions in 194 countries and
is continually updated with new schools and education
College Accreditation 101
- Understanding college accreditation is an important
step in choosing the right school. It can be easy to
be confused or misled by the accreditation claims on
college websites. BrainTrack's College Accreditation
101 section of articles provides information to help
students make informed decisions about the schools
Top 10 Signs: Real College Degree or Diploma Mill?
Mill News Blog
Degrees and diplomas issued by diploma mills are frequently
used for fraudulent purposes, such as obtaining employment, promotions,
raises, or bonuses on false pretenses. Diploma Mill News provides
excerpts of articles and press releases related to bogus degrees.