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Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills

Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills

Degree mills and accreditation mills seriously erode public confidence in higher education.

> Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills

Degree Mills and Accreditation MillsWhat Are Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills?

Degree Mills

A degree mill has been defined by the Higher Education Opportunity Act as an entity that (a) (i) offers, for a fee, degrees, diplomas, or certificates, that may be used to represent to the general public that the individual possessing such a degree, diploma, or certificate has completed a program of postsecondary education or training; and (ii) requires the individual to complete little or no education or coursework to obtain such degree, diploma, or certificate; and (b) lacks accreditation by an accrediting agency or association that is recognized as an accrediting agency or association of institutions of higher education. Alternatively, a degree mill is an entity that operates without the proper supervision or authority of a state or professional agency and that grants degrees, diplomas, or certificates that are fraudulent or worthless due to the lack of appropriate standards. Degree mills are more interested in making money than in providing a high-quality education. They offer degrees, diplomas, or certificates that require little, if any, academic work and are therefore of no value to the student or the general public.

Accreditation Mills

Similarly, an accreditation mill can be defined as an entity that provides, for a fee, accreditation, recognition, or certification to institutions of higher education or the programs offered by institutions of higher education with few or no requirements pertaining to (i) the external, independent evaluation of the quality of the institutions or programs that are being accredited, recognized, or certified, (ii) the on-site review of the institutions or programs by a team of trained peer evaluators, and (iii) the subsequent periodic review of the institutions or programs. Accreditation mills are just a facade. They offer their accreditation, recognition, or certification for a fee without an in-depth review of the institution’s programs, faculty, or educational processes. Consequently, the “accreditation,” “recognition,” or “certification” that they provide is of no academic value whatsoever. They have few, if any, quality standards or review processes and therefore do not ensure that students receive a high-quality education. In many cases, accreditation mills are associated with and created by degree mills for the sole purpose of self-accreditation, which gives the degree mill the appearance of being a legitimate institution of higher education. This fake “accreditation” is then used by the degree mill in its marketing and promotional efforts to help attract students.

The Harm Caused by Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills

Earning a degree or credential from a legitimate institution of higher education, and accreditation by a legitimate accrediting/quality assurance agency, are the means by which students, parents, employers, and other stakeholders of the institution can be assured that students have demonstrated appropriate academic achievement and that the institution complies with specific quality standards.

Public confidence and investment in higher education can be significantly undermined, and various stakeholders of colleges and universities, including current and potential students and their families, employers, governmental entities, and other members of the public who may have an interest in the institution, can be seriously harmed as a result of the operation of degree mills and accreditation mills.

Degrees or diplomas from degree mills may not be accepted by other legitimate higher education institutions for the purposes of credit transfer or admission to graduate school. In addition, employers may not accept degrees or diplomas from degree mills for the purposes of employment, promotion, or tuition assistance for continuing education.

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that the education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Legitimate accrediting agencies, which are private associations of regional, national, or international scope, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer reviews to evaluate the degree to which those criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that meet that agency’s criteria are then accredited by that agency. The “accreditation” provided by an accreditation mill is normally offered for a fee with little or no review actually taking place, and consequently misleads students and the public about the quality of the institution or program that is accredited by that agency.

Avoiding Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills

What can we all do to avoid the harm caused by degree mills and accreditation mills? The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a national advocate and institutional voice for self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation, is a national, non-governmental association of degree-granting colleges and universities that recognizes institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations. On its website, CHEA provides a wealth of resources relating to degree mills and accreditation mills. In particular, CHEA identifies a set of attributes that tend to characterize the activities of both of these types of organizations. These attributes can be helpful in identifying and avoiding degree mills and accreditation mills and the harm that they cause:

Important Questions about Accreditation, Degree Mills, and Accreditation Mills


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