Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
Some people are wary of distance education because of the negative effects of "Diploma Mills." Diploma mills are entities which claim to provide legitimate certificates, diplomas, degrees, etc., that are considered false by most people within and outside the academic community.
The problem with diploma mills is that people who are unaware of the dangers can waste both time and money acquiring a diploma that may mean nothing if they later try to continue their education by building on that degree at an accredited institution. Further, employers are unlikely to accept a degree from a diploma mill as legitimate. People pursuing an education to get a raise or promotion, or who hoped the employer would offer reimbursement, can be setting themselves up for disappointment if they choose one of these dodgy programs.
Clearly diploma mills can be very harmful. One of the ways to avoid them would be to check the accreditation status of a school or educational provider prior to applying. Accreditation typically means that an organization has undergone a review to assure it meets certain standards. Unfortunately, just as diploma mills have become a business, so have accreditation mills that offer certification to any program upon request.
However, none of this invalidates the legitimate distance education providers as a whole. There are some basic ways of evaluating programs and accrediting bodies to see if they are trying to scam you.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (http://www.chea.org) has provided a set of guidelines and questions you can ask to help you protect yourself from diploma or accreditation mills. Follow this link to find a list of publications by CHEA. Fact Sheet #6 will provide you with a link to download a PDF copy of their information on diploma and accreditation mills. Particularly useful is the list of questions they provide that can help you identify whether a program is in fact a "mill."
Another useful resource was compiled by the State of Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization. Their Student Assistance Commission compiled a webpage of Unaccredited colleges that the state has encountered, as well as a definition of diploma mills, and resources and red-flags pertaining to relevant state laws.
Use this information to avoid bad programs and investigate all of the wonderful options that are available from legitimate distance learning providers. The opportunities are endless. It's just a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
For more information, read our article, Ten Tips for Selecting an Online University.
Photo by ginnerobot