What is a diploma mill?

Did you ever receive an e-mail offering you university qualifications and any type of degree (e.g. MBA) based on your work and life experience (and in exchange for quite an amount of money)? This offer came from a diploma mill.

The Centre for Information on Diploma Mills (CIDM) writes the following about diploma mills: “The term ‘diploma mill’ (or ‘degree mill’) is an internationally accepted term for any type of person or organisation that sells diplomas and academic degrees purely for profit and without requiring any serious academic achievement or study. Diploma mills come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from fully-fledged diploma production lines to small-scale internet traders.

Diploma mills undermine the value of real degrees. Graduates compete with people who have not studied but claim the same kind of degrees while employers hire people who on the basis of their degrees seem qualified but in fact aren’t.

But when is a qualification bona fide and when is it bogus? Always try to find out which institution you are exactly dealing with. According to CIDM, there are several characteristics which can be considered as an indicator or a warning signal.

  • the address is a post office box, a suite number or a mail drop 
  • the phone number puts you through to a call centre, an answering machine or a mobile phone 
  • a sample copy of the degree is shown on the website 
  • you are offered a non-traditional education, credits for life experience, and the programmes are offered through distance learning. 
  • accreditation is claimed to come from an individual state in the US (Wyoming and Montana are popular), the government of a small island state in the Pacific or the Caribbean (e.g. St Kitts and Nevis), or from countries such as Liberia, where there is little or no government control in higher education 
  • the website offers no information about faculties, staff, study programmes, etc. 
  • your diploma can be tailor-made to your own requirements, may be back-dated, and may be awarded with the grade point average and distinction (e.g. cum laude) of your choice 
  • credit card logos and other payment options are shown on the website 
  • the name of the awarding “institution” strongly resembles that of a well-known, bona fide university, such as Columbia State University (as opposed to the real Columbia University), Cambridge International University (as opposed to the real University of Cambridge) and Trinity College and University (as opposed to the real Trinity College).

Furthermore, if a diploma mill refers to educational activities it will refer to their progressive approach to teaching and training as a way to counter arguments about their lack of education as being conservative and old-fashioned.

Related subjects:

  • How do I know if an institution is recognised? 

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