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What Are Diploma Mills & How Do They Lead To Resume Lies?

Woman wearing a college graduation mortarboard. Is she qualified?

Diploma mills or degree mills are phony universities that offers degrees, diplomas, or certificates. Candidates with degrees or certificates from diploma mills may have false or misleading information on their resumes.

Here’s what you should know about diploma mills, how to spot falsified education information on resumes, and how using education verification can protect your company.

What Is A Diploma Mill?

Also called degree mills, a diploma mill is an unaccredited or phony university that offers degrees, diplomas, or certificates—usually online. This is typically done for a lump-sum ‘tuition’ fee (anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand) and requires little-to-no actual coursework or education.

Diploma mills aren’t a new concept in the US; during the late 19th century, the founding of new colleges created a booming market for degrees, drastically increasing their value and worth. Fast forward to today—where many people are unable to obtain a degree due to the rising cost of secondary education—it’s not a surprise that diploma mills are still booming. Currently, Get Educated tracks more than 300 active diploma mills. However, the problem is much bigger than that.

In 2017, World Education Services revealed that there were more than 1,000 estimated diploma mills in the US and more than 2,600 worldwide. In the US alone, diploma mills rake in an estimated $200 million each year.

As an employer, why should you worry about diploma mills?

Because candidates with degrees or certificates from these institutions may have false or misleading information on their resume. And without the proper background screenings—like education verification—employers may be putting themselves at risk by hiring unqualified candidates.

That’s why GoodHire is breaking down what you need to know about diploma mills, how they can lead to lies on a resume, and how to spot falsified education information on resumes and applications.

What Are The Signs A Degree Is From A Diploma Mill?

The Most Common Red Flags

Diploma mills come in many shapes and forms, taking on the persona of a legitimate institution. Some of the most recognizable signs of diploma mills include:

  • Out-right offering to sell a degree or transcript from an accredited school
  • Awarding degrees in an incredibly short time span
  • Awarding degrees based solely on life experience
  • No physical location
  • No educators or professors

Requiring Little To No Coursework

Other signs of diploma mills may be harder to spot—especially for vulnerable consumers who want to obtain a degree in less time and for less money. Which, in fact, is one of the main selling points of sneakier diploma mills—offering an attractive hook that consumers can earn a degree in ‘much less time’ compared to traditional universities. Some degree mills will also actually require some coursework, though it’s still significantly less than what would be done or required at a legitimate, accredited school.

False Accreditations

According to the Better Business Bureau, other degree mills operate under the guise of claiming to be accredited—but that accreditation isn’t actually recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. One example? Olford Walters University, which claims to be accredited by the Global Accreditation Council of Online Academia (GACOA). But that so-called accrediting agency isn’t actually recognized by the DOE. As a result, anyone who sees that an institution is “accredited” but fails to legitimize the actual accreditation may be more susceptible to enrolling in this type of diploma mill.

Similar Names

Degree mills also use names that are uncannily similar to well-known, accredited schools and even use a web address with .edu to appear more legitimate. For example, Universal of Berkley, which operates in Michigan and Pennsylvania, is eerily similar to University of California – Berkeley—or UC Berkeley—which is an actual accredited school. 

How Do Diploma Mills Lead To Lying On A Resume?

Because diploma mills aren’t accredited and offer fake or falsified degrees and certificates, it can put candidates at risk of lying about their educational background and actual qualifications required for a position. Whether intentional or not, lying about a college degree can seriously tarnish a candidate’s reputation and prevent them from securing quality jobs. Employers should be aware of both scenarios should they screen a candidate and discover a candidate may be lying on their resume.

Intentional lying on a resume

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to lie on their resume. One recent survey revealed as many as 78% of candidates lie on their resume. One of the most popular fabrications? Education experience, including:

  • Saying they’ve earned a degree from a university when they didn’t graduate
  • Saying they’ve earned a degree from a different university than the one they attended
  • Saying they’ve earned a degree from a university when they only took one or a few courses

And while there’s still not a lot of data that reveals how many candidates lie about a fake degree, research done by Get Educated found more than 2,000 LinkedIn members with phony degrees listed on their resumes. Of those who earn unaccredited college degrees, one educational expert estimates that 75% are aware of their falsified credentials. The most common reasons for intentional lying? Candidates want to increase their odds of securing a job or obtaining a higher salary.

Unintentional lying on a resume

When it comes to diploma mills, what may seem obvious for some isn’t as evident for others. This can potentially lead vulnerable consumers to secure fake degrees from unaccredited institutions unintentionally. How? Here are a few ways:

  • Not doing proper research to determine the legitimacy of the institution
  • Being duped by an ‘accredited’ school that isn’t recognized by the DOE or CHEA
  • Desperate to earn a degree to secure a higher-paying job

Verify Candidates’ Education With GoodHire

Because diploma mills are increasingly common, it’s crucial for employers to take an extra step in the screening process to make better-informed hiring decisions, minimize the risk of hiring someone with false credentials, and protect your company against liability claims. Without screenings like Education Verification, companies may end up:

  • Hiring candidates with false credentials
  • Investing time, money, and training on unqualified candidates
  • Increasing the risk of an uncredentialed employee causing reputational damage to the business and other employees

With an education background check, employers can quickly and accurately verify information provided by the candidate, including:

  • School attended
  • Dates attended
  • Completion status
  • Degrees or certificates earned
  • Graduation date

In other words: GoodHire can help employers quickly spot a fake degree from a diploma mill, alerting them to falsified credentials listed on a resume or job application. All of which helps protect your company in the short- and long-term.

It’s a good idea to verify your candidate’s educational claims. GoodHire offers Education Verification checks and hundreds of employment screening services.

Get Started With Education Verification Checks

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

Ashley Blonquist is a former news journalist. She writes about GoodHire’s employment screening services and how employers use them to make informed hiring decisions.