Education Verification Fraud
Verifying educational credentials of job applicants can be an important part of an employer’s decision making process in hiring. Educational achievement tells an employer a great deal about an applicant’s ability, qualifications, and motivation. Many employers feel that educational qualifications are a critical factor in predicting success on the job. For many positions, education is a prerequisite in terms of subject matter knowledge or for obtaining the appropriate license for the position.
However, surveys suggest that as many as 30 percent of all job applicants falsify information about their educational backgrounds. The falsifications can include:
- Outright fabrications such as making up degrees from legitimate schools the applicant never attended or valueless degrees from so-called "diploma mills" that are not real schools.
- Supposed educational achievements based upon some semblance of fact, such as claiming degrees from schools the applicant actually attended but did not obtain the degree claimed.
- Turning an Associates degree or Bachelors degree into a more advanced degree such as a Masters or PhD even if they did not complete the course work or fulfill all graduation requirements.
Background check firms verify education in the U.S. in two ways:
- One way is to contact the school, usually through the registar’s office. Before doing that, however, a competent background firm will first run the name of the school against various databases to ensure that the school is legitimate and accredited, and not a phony degree mill. A number of schools will require a written release or a fee, which can delay the verification. Delays can also occur because schools operate on an academic schedule, which can mean the administrative offices are closed during holidays and the summer months.
- The other options available to screening firms and employers are online services that have contracts with schools to gather degree information from schools, thus acting as the schools’ agents.
Adding to the challenge is that some degree mills and fake online schools have even created fake accreditation agencies to falsely vouch for the fake schools. In the U.S. schools are generally accredited by private organizations that are recognized as legitimate accreditors by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) found at http://www.chea.org. The U.S. government, in response to these issues, has created a web site where employers can look up a school to determine if and how it is accredited. The U.S. Department of Education has created The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutuions and Programs which provides searches of schools by accreditation agency that is available at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.
Employment Screenng Resources (ESR) goes through an extensive procedure to verify that a school is legitimate:
- First, ESR compares the schools to schools that are known to be legitimate.
- If the school does not pass that test, ESR examines numerous “diploma mill” lists.
- However, those lists are a moving target since new diploma mills can be easily created.
- If a school is not on either list, ESR then carefully reviews the schools web site and in particular, looks to see what “accreditation” the school claims.
The bottom line is that employers should not take educational accomplishments at face value without ensuring that the applicant actually has obtained the degree, and that the degree is from a legitimate educational institution.
Education Verification Resources
To determine if a school is legitimate and accredited, first search the two websites below:
- U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized U.S. Accrediting Organizations
If a school does not appear in the above sites, search for known diploma mills using the following lists:
- Oregon Office of Degree Authorization (ODA) - Unaccredited Colleges
- Hawaii.gov - Unaccredited Degree Granting Institutions (UDGI)
- Maine Department of Education - Non-Accredited Colleges & Degree Mills
- Texas: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board - Institutions Whose Degrees are Illegal to Use in Texas
- Michigan Civil Service Commission - Non-Accredited Colleges and Universities Information
NOTE: Employers should keep in mind that there is no comprehensive, up-to-date list of degree mills. Fake schools can be set up overnight so it is always a moving target. Keep in mind that fake schools are now setting up fake accreditation agencies. If an employer cannot locate the schools on any site, it does not necessarily mean the school is a diploma mill. There are theological school that can grant degrees, as well as legitimated distance learning schools and vocational schools. An experienced background screening firm will always take steps to determine if a school is authentic.
By Lester S. Rosen