Diploma Mills claim they provide a good college education and employment opportunities. They lie and they’re ripping us off to the tune of billions of dollars per year in tax subsidies through student loans. It’s the same refrain There’s lots of money out there for you! We can help you with financial aid! You’re also likely to hear some variance on the theme Start your career in only 8 months!
Diploma mills’ slick marketing, high pressure marketing, and loan “advisers” imply that their Homeland Security graduates will be eligible for jobs in high-security industries, such as the CIA, FBI, TSA, and the Border Patrol—none of which necessarily require a college degree. Ashworth College offers prospective students the opportunity to complete a Massage Training program. The institution has been cited on the Rip-Off Report.
Gluts of for-profit companies advertise during daytime television and target people desperate for work. These organizations offer bloated promises and bogus certificates or “degrees” from unaccredited institution, which cannot be transferred. Congress recently issued a report listing numerous schools currently under scrutiny.
“American taxpayers are the single biggest investor in for-profit colleges, yet the government that holds their trust has little ability to ensure that they get the return on investment they deserve: educational and career success for the students who enroll,” the report said. “Congress must put in place a much more rigorous regulatory structure that incentives the sector to make the financial investments necessary to result in higher student success.
Although for-profit institutions issued a statement against a two-year report conducted by the Senate, they could not counter the statistics, which indicated the high cost of a for-profit education. The study found, in part, that $35,000 is average cost of a two-year associate’s degree at a for-profit college vs. $8,300 at a comparable community college; $19,806 is the average cost of a certificate program at a for-profit college that can be earned for an average of $4,250 at a comparable public college. (Please link to the statistics for more information.)
The reality is that the for-profit institution makes massive money and the students get stuck with massive debt—more often than not, for life. On May 8, 2012, the student debt clock passed the $1 trillion mark. And this for profit sector is growing—fast.
Both the U.S. Department of Education and numerous other sites provide several indicators that indicate a school is likely a financial scam:
- They often have names similar to well-known colleges or universities, but are often “accredited” by some bogus organization (i.e., “the University of Berkeley” may well be a diploma mill).
- The organization changes addresses—and states—frequently. These “schools” may also use box numbers or suites. The campus may be a mail drop box or an attic.
- Check the “admission materials” for poor writing, numerous spelling, and grammatical errors—sometimes these appear on the diploma. (A grammatically incorrect sentence such as “Our program is the only one of it’s kind on the Internet to offer such a service at an incredible price” may indicate a suspect institution.)
- Overemphasis on the speed with which someone can receive compared to a legitimate educational institution.
- If you can enroll right away with no selectivity in admissions, questions about previous test scores, or detailed academic history—run away!
- Degree requirements are vague, unspecified, lacking class descriptions, and make no mention of credit hours required to complete a “certificate” or “degree.”
- Tuition and fees are typically on a per-degree basis.
- A list of accrediting agencies that sounds a little too impressive. Often, for-profit schools list accreditation by organizations not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Offers unrealistic emphasis on offering college credits for lifetime or real world experience.
- Names similar to well known reputable universities. An .edu website does not necessarily indicate an educational institution.
There are numerous horror stories—and even a Diploma Mill News blog—which lists databases and accreditation mills. The GAO (1) conduct[ed] undercover testing to determine if for-profit colleges’ representatives engaged in fraudulent, deceptive, or otherwise questionable marketing practices, and (2) compare[d] e tuition of the for-profit colleges tested with those of other colleges in the same geographic region. GAO investigators posed as prospective students at 15 for-profit colleges in six states and Washington, D.C.
All 15 made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements to undercover applicants. Four undercover applicants were encouraged by college personnel to falsify their financial aid forms to qualify for federal aid.
Among the practices the GAO investigators recorded on hidden cameras:
- In California, a college representative encouraged an undercover applicant to change federal aid forms and falsely increase the number of dependents to qualify for grants.
- In Florida, an undercover applicant was falsely the college was accredited by the same organization that accredits Harvard. She was also told that no one would come after her if she did not pay her loans.
- In D.C., an admissions representative said barbers can earn up to $150,000-$250,000 a year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 90 percent of barbers make less than $43,000 annually.
- Representatives at four schools repeatedly told the applicants that they could not speak to a financial aid representative until signing enrollment forms and paying a small fee. In one video clip, a supervisor intervenes, questioning whether the applicant is really serious about going to school and improving his job prospects.
For-profit schools’ recruitment practices continue despite the exorbitant debt students occur despite the high default rates and despite the poor job-placement success rates. According to Education Trust, some for-profit schools have even begun opening their own loan offices to provide loans directly to students. A little money up front is nothing off the backs of for-profit schools; Apollo Group, which runs the University of Phoenix, posted a 43 percent increase in profits in 2009. (Impending regulation has hurt their stocks in 2010.)
These practices are endemic in the “for profit, diploma mill” industry. A better alternative to these scam artists is to intern in an industry that interests you. The medical, scientific, and educational fields, as well as green jobs, are the fastest growing industries. Most community colleges offer solid accreditation that won’t bankrupt you.
Help and more advice are available at the The U.S. Department of Education, which classifies and lists the official criteria for accreditation provides guidelines so a prospective student can determine whether an institution is a genuinely accredited institution of learning. The FTC’s Degrees of Deception also provides documentation, which cautions prospective students on scams and provides a link to register a consumer complaint. You can also do research on the Rip-Off Report, a searchable site which lists consumer comments.
Updated and edited from a previous publication at MMA.