Definition: Companies that sell “degrees” on the internet without requiring the buyer to do anything more than pay a fee.
Shocking statistics from a May 20, 2015 editorial in The New York Times asserts that “there are 3,300 unrecognized universities worldwide, many of them selling degrees at all levels to anyone willing to pay the price, and that more than 50,000 Ph.Ds. are purchased from diploma mills every year – slightly more than are legitimately earned.”
The competitive job market has made education qualifications more valuable than ever so it is not surprising to see that job candidates are embellishing their qualifications. The Federal Trade Commission provides the following clues to help you spot questionable credentials on a resume or application. Look for:
- Out of Sequence Degrees. When you review education claims, you expect to see degrees earned in a traditional progression — high school, followed by bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral or other advanced degrees. If an applicant claims a master’s or doctoral degree, but no bachelor’s degree — or if the applicant claims a college degree, but no high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) diploma, consider it a red flag, and a likely sign of a diploma mill.
- Quickie Degrees. It generally takes time to earn a college or advanced degree — three to four years for an undergraduate degree, one or two years for a master’s degree, and even longer to earn a doctorate. A degree earned in a very short time, or several degrees listed for the same year, are warning signs for the hiring official or the person doing the preliminary screening.
- Degrees From Schools in Locations Different From the Applicant’s Job or Home. If the applicant worked full-time while attending school, check the locations of the job and the educational institution. If the applicant didn’t live where he went to school, check to see if the degree is from an accredited distance learning institution, using the steps described under ‘Checking Out Academic Credentials.’ If the degree is not from a legitimate, accredited distance learning institution, it may be from a diploma mill.
- Sound-Alike Names. Some diploma mills use names that sound or look like those of well-known colleges or universities. If the institution has a name similar to a well-known school, but is located in a different state, check on it. Should you come across a degree from an institution with a prestigious-sounding foreign name that calls for some homework, too. Researching the legitimacy of foreign schools can be a challenge, but consider it a warning sign if an applicant claims a degree from a country where she never lived.
A background screening provider can help you verify that the school, professional program, degree(s) achieved, and date the degree was awarded are accurate to what a candidate is reporting on their resume. If the applicant is still attending school, dates of attendance can also be provided. Verifying qualifications can protect you again negligent hiring claims in the future.