North Dakota Diploma Mill Scandal Shows Need for Education Verifications

A recently released audit report of Dickinson State University (DSU) in North Dakota describes the school as a “diploma mill” for foreign students that awarded hundreds of unearned degrees to students mostly from China who did not complete their course work while also enrolling students who did not have qualifying grades. The audit, which examined foreign students who have taken part in a special program since 2003 allowing them to earn degrees both from DSU and a university in their home country, is at:

The audit of DSU found that of the 410 students who received degrees in the program, 400 of them were missing the requisite credits or course work and 375 – 91 percent – were awarded degrees from the summer semester of 2008 through the end of last year. The report claimed approximately 95 percent of the students in the dual-degree program were Chinese while the rest were Russian. Key findings of the DSU audit included:

  • Only 10 of the 410 students who received degrees through the program completed all their course work and requirements.
  • At least 15 foreign students were signed up for classes even though their grades were too low to qualify and had not achieved the “C” average normally required for admission.
  • Out of 27 Chinese students enrolled this spring, 21 were unable to speak English at the required competency level.
  • Some students did not have required documents such as English proficiency tests and bank statements.
  • Some students may have fabricated course transcripts and Chinese university stamps that DSU officials accepted.
  • DSU did not get “completion transcripts” from the home universities of many students but awarded them degrees anyway.

In addition, the report indicated that Dickinson State could face penalties from the U.S. State Department and sanctions from the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security, and an accreditation agency in Chicago. The audit is available at:

The news of the diploma mill scandal in North Dakota comes at a time when China has become the leading exporter of college students to the United States. According to the Institute of International Education, roughly 157,600 Chinese students studied in the U.S. in the 2010-11 academic year, a 24 percent increase from the previous year. The number of Chinese students in the U.S. rose by at least 19.8 percent in each of the past four years.

Diploma mills are an international issue. As previously reported by ESR News, the Accredibase™ Report for 2011 from Verifile Limited revealed an 48 percent increase worldwide in the number of known fake diploma mills – what the report describes as “largely online entities whose degrees are worthless due to the lack of valid accreditation and recognition” – in the previous year. The report found the United States was the world’s diploma mill capital with a 20 percent increase in known diploma mills, and California was the state with the highest number of diploma mills. Overall, the Accredibase™ database identified approximately 5,000 suspect educational institutions and accreditors. The report is at:

The rise in diploma mills means that education verifications where employers verify the academic achievements and certifications claimed by job applicants have taken on an important role in employment background checks. In the current economy, the number of diploma mills is likely to increase as desperate job applicants knowingly or unknowingly do business with companies that offer fake degrees and false credentials for a price.

“Educational credentials are an important part of an employer’s decision making process in hiring and educational achievement and can tell an employer a great deal about the job applicant’s ability and qualifications,” says Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and CEO of background check firm Employment Screening Resources (ESR) and author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ a comprehensive guide to employment screening background checks. “Many employers feel educational qualifications are a critical factor in predicting success on the job, and for many positions education is a prerequisite in terms of subject matter knowledge or for obtaining the appropriate license for the position.”

Rosen says employers should not take the educational accomplishments of job seekers at face value without ensuring that the applicant has actually obtained a degree, and that the degree is from a legitimate educational institution.  To help businesses understand the importance of checking the educational records of job applicants, Rosen wrote the article ‘The Basics of Education Verifications,’ which is available on the ESR website at:

Adding to the challenge, Rosen says some diploma mills have created fake accreditation agencies to falsely vouch for the phony schools. In the United States, schools are generally accredited by private organizations recognized as legitimate accreditors by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) at  The U.S. Department of Education has also created a website where employers can search for accredited schools at  

To learn more about background checks that include education and credential verifications, visit Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM’ and background screening provider accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) at or call 415.898-0044 or 888.999.4474. For information about diploma mills, read ESR News blogs tagged ‘diploma mills’ at


About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – ‘The Background Check AuthoritySM – provides accurate and actionable information, empowering employers to make informed safe hiring decisions for the benefit for our clients, their employees, and the public. ESR literally wrote the book on background screening with “The Safe Hiring Manual” by Founder and CEO Lester Rosen. ESR is accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a distinction held by less than two percent of all screening firms. By choosing an accredited screening firm like ESR, employers know they have selected an agency that meets the highest industry standards. For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), visit or call 415.898.0044 or 888.999.4474.

About ESR News:
The Employment Screening Resources (ESR) News blog – ESR News – provides employment screening information for employers, recruiters, and jobseekers on a variety of topics including credit reports, criminal records, data privacy, discrimination, E-Verify, jobs reports, legal updates, negligent hiring, workplace violence, and use of search engines and social network sites for background checks. For more information about ESR News or to send comments or questions, please email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at