On Campus

The perils of degree mills

The fall issue of International Higher Education includes several articles on the problems created by degree mills. With regard to the impact of degree mills on students and society, Judith S. Eaton and Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic write:

The harms caused by degree mills are so socially significant that all actors involved in higher education have a stake in discouraging the existence of such questionable providers. The stakeholders include not only students but also employers and government, as well as colleges and universities.Students, whether deliberating seeking an easy path to a degree or genuine victims of misleading degree mill advertising, are endangered because these often expensive credentials are fraudulent and in many cases useless.

Students and parents in developing countries, attracted by the opportunity of a foreign and more portable degree, are a particularly vulnerable group. All too frequently, the credentials cannot be used for obtaining employment or upgrading employment status. Credits from a degree mill do not readily transfer to a legitimate institution. If a baccalaureate degree is proven to be fake, it cannot be used for entry to graduate school.

Employers are hurt when they unknowingly rely on makebelieve degrees as evidence of the competence of the employees they hire. An employee with such a degree is, at the very least, an embarrassment. At the extreme, such a person is a danger to others, especially when the bogus credential purports to affirm expertise in areas such as nursing or engineering. Lives are at stake.

Government suffers when millions of taxpayer dollars are used for student grants and loans to pay the tuition costs of a degree mill or when the government-as-employer provides tuition assistance to its employees who “attend” degree mills. Government (i.e., the taxpayer) is also obligated to sustain the cost of enforcing regulations to fight degree mills—such as the fraud investigations conducted over the years in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission and the General Accountability Office.

Colleges and universities are harmed because their legitimate efforts to provide quality higher education are undermined. When degree mills capture and minimally transform the names of reliable higher education providers for their own questionable use, they cause confusion and doubt among prospective students and the public. Public suspicion of degree mills spills over on legitimate providers of higher education, compromising the efforts of reliable institutions to sustain public trust and serve the public interest.

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