A new report from Verifile Limited, Europe’s leading background screening company, has revealed an astounding 48 percent increase worldwide in the number of known fake diploma mills – which the report described as “largely online entities whose degrees are worthless due to the lack of valid accreditation and recognition” – in the past year.

According to the second annual Accredibase™ Report for 2011, the United States was the world’s fake college capital and saw a 20 percent increase in known diploma mills with the number rising from 810 to 1,008. The report also found more than 40 percent of U.S. diploma mills operate in four states: California, Hawaii, Washington, and Florida.

The top ten states and areas in the U.S. with the highest number of diploma mills were:

  • California – 147 diploma mills
  • Hawaii – 98 diploma mills
  • Washington – 91 diploma mills
  • Florida – 84 diploma mills
  • Texas – 68 diploma mills
  • New York – 55 diploma mills
  • Arizona – 44 diploma mills
  • Louisiana – 42 diploma mills
  • Delaware – 37 diploma mills
  • District of Columbia – 33 diploma mills

As for the rest of the world, the United Kingdom (U.K.) by far remained Europe’s bogus university capital with a 25 percent increase in known diploma mills, with the number rising from 271 to 339, and also accounting for 57 percent of European diploma mills. The number of diploma mills in Europe rose from 454 to 593, an increase of 31 percent.

The top ten European countries with the highest number of diploma mills were:

  • United Kingdom – 339 diploma mills
  • Italy – 43 diploma mills
  • Belgium – 36 diploma mills
  • Netherlands – 34 diploma mills
  • Switzerland –21 diploma mills
  • Ireland – 20 diploma mills
  • Germany – 13 diploma mills
  • Spain – 12 diploma mills
  • Austria– 11 diploma mills
  • France – 11 diploma mills

The report also identified the following “red flags” – or warning signs – that may help identify of diploma mills:

  • The institution does not have authority to operate or grant degrees from the education authorities where it claims to be based.
  • Degrees are delivered in a short space of time – sometimes a few days.
  • Degrees are granted based entirely on work or life experience.
  • Contact details are limited to email addresses and vague about the institution’s location.
  • The institution allows students to choose their own course titles and specify graduation years on the certificate.
  • Sample certificates, transcripts, or verification letters are available on the website.
  • Institutions make complicated or misleading claims about accreditation or recognition.
  • The institution’s name is similar to that of a recognized and respected education institution.
  • The institution’s Internet domain names are misleading.
  • The institution’s website is poorly designed, has poor spelling and grammar, or plagiarizes copy from other institutions.

Accredibase™, Verifile’s proprietary database of diploma and accreditation mills, has identified approximately 5,000 suspect educational institutions and accreditors. In addition to the 2,615 confirmed diploma mills known to Accredibase™, more than 2,000 suspect institutions are currently under investigation for inclusion in the database.

Due to the Accredibase™ reports, several U.S. states have stepped up to fight against diploma mills:

  • Idaho lawmakers unanimously approved an “anti-diploma mill” bill to make it easier for the Board of Education to target bogus education providers operating in the state.
  • The Governor of Missouri signed a bill that will make it illegal to use false academic credentials to apply for jobs, college, or in connection with any business, employment or public office in Missouri.
  • California, long a haven for diploma mills due to the lack of regulation, finally reinstated a program of approval for higher education institutions.
  • The Diploma and Accreditation Integrity Protection Act would protect the integrity of bona fide qualifications by targeting the sale and use of fraudulent degrees. If passed into law, the Act would allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to act against bogus degree providers and report these providers to the Secretary of Education and make this information available to the public.

As reported previously on the ESR News blog, education falsification is a surprisingly common occurrence and a rapidly growing problem as evidenced by these stories:

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a leading provider of background checks accredited by the National Association of Background Screeners (NAPBS) – provides education verifications to ensure that a school is legitimate and not a diploma mill. ESR also has a wealth of material on academic fraud including an article by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen, “The Basics of Educational Verifications,” at https://www.esrcheck.com/wordpress/1090/the-basics-of-education-verifications. In addition, the ESR Resource Center contains lists of fraudulent schools as well as information how to find real accredited schools at: https://www.esrcheck.com/services/resources.php.

Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco, California area with a mission to help both employers and employees maintain safe workplaces, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. ESR is formally Accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) and is also a Designated E-Verify Employer Agent that helps U.S. businesses maintain a legal workforce. For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), visit https://www.esrcheck.com or email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected].