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Watch Out for Diploma Mills

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By Kara L. Motosicky, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 8, 2004) -- Expect to get promotion points for a college degree that requires no class work or tests? Think again, warn Department of Defense education specialists.

A diploma mill is a college or university that operates primarily to make money, often offering college credit for life experiences rather than any formal education.

Diploma mills prey on naïve people who are often too busy with families and careers to attend classes. The school isn’t properly accredited and issues degrees without ensuring an education occurs. Diploma mills used to be the province of mail-order schools, but with the Internet, many more such schools are popping up.

The best defense against diploma mills for Soldiers are Army Education Centers according to one Department of Defense official.

“Before they make any contact, sign anything, they should visit their education center,” said the official “That way, the counselor can help them find out if the school’s accredited.”

Nancy B. Adams, an education services specialist at the Fort Belvoir, Va., Army Education Center, agrees that the education center should be a Soldier’s first stop.

“Our job is to help the Soldier define his educational goals,” Adams said. “If they have a school they’re researching, they should bring it in to the office. We’ll let them know if it’s accredited.”

Deployed Soldiers must be savvier, said the official.

“If Soldiers are deployed, you usually have an (education service officer), but they may not know which schools aren’t accredited,” said the official.

The Army will not recognize a degree from a non-accredited school, said Adams. For schools to be recognized as accredited by the US Department of Education they have to meet certain standards, including quality of education, library size and student/faculty ratio said Adams.

Schools can be accredited on a regional or national level, but not all accrediting agencies are recognized by the DoEd, she said.

One particular school, Trinity College & University, is actively pursuing the Soldiers in Iraq. The school, which is based out of Metairie, La., is not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. The school, though similar in name, is also not affiliated with Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Soldiers who don’t have access to an education center can go online to check a school’s accreditation.

“It can be difficult to validate a school’s accreditation,” said the DoD official. “Many diploma mills bury their accreditations, if they have any, so deep in an official-looking Web site that they are impossible to find.”

Do not discount all distance-learning schools, though.

“There are some very reputable online schools out there,” said Adams. “They’re held to the same standards as a brick-and–mortar school, except they may have an online library.”

Also, there are some accredited institutions that do give credit for work experience, usually awarding an degree in conjunction with credit hours earned through attending normal college courses.

Soldiers who pursue degrees from non-accredited schools will quickly learn some hard lessons.

“With a degree from a diploma mill, you’re not going to get financial aid,” said the DoD official.

“Soldiers only receive $4500 per fiscal year for education,” said Adams. “We want them to be good stewards of their tuition money.”

Having the diploma mill degree can leave a permanent black mark on your record, even after leaving military service for the civilian sector, the DoD official said.

“More and more articles are popping up, employers are getting savvy,” said the official. “There’s always a risk that you will be demoted or fired."

Some tips in recognizing diploma mills:

  • The school does not require studying, tests or essays.
  • The school boasts of accreditation, i.e., “fully, nationally or worldwide accredited,” but has no legitimate accreditation.
  • The school relies on “portfolio assessments” or “life experience.”
  • The school advertises through e-mail messages sent to millions.
For more information on school accreditation, visit the DoEd at www.ed.gov.

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