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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

Phony diploma mills that use “slick websites” and claim to be “nationally accredited” to lure honest students looking to improve themselves through education only offer certificates costing hundreds of dollars that “are not worth the paper they are printed on,” according to a report from ABC Action News WFTS in Tampa Bay, Florida.

ABC Action News reports the story of a high school dropout in the Tampa area who wanted to go to college so she enrolled online at McHill High School. She spent $200 and studied for weeks to pass an online test to receive a diploma that showed she earned credits in world religion and algebra.

However, McHill High School is not registered with Florida’s Department of Education, as mandated by state law, and no college in the Tampa area would accept the woman’s diploma, ABC Action News reports. When contacted about that, McHill High School had no answers and hung up the phone.

The “Accreditation” page on the McHill High School website claims the online high school diploma program they offer is accredited by National Accreditation Bureau for Alternative Education (NABAE), described as a “self-governing” accreditation body. A link to the NABAE website on the page was broken at the time of this story.

A check of “McHill High School” on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website shows the business is not BBB accredited and an alert was placed on the school. The BBB has had certified mail sent to the business address provided on the McHill High School website returned as undeliverable.

In addition, the BBB tried to contact the business at the phone number provided on the website but did not get an answer or a return call. The BBB also contacted the building owner at that business address who advised the BBB that a business named McHill High School was not located in that office building.

The second annual Accredibase™ Report from Verifile Limited defined diploma mills as “largely online entities whose degrees are worthless due to the lack of valid accreditation and recognition.” The report also identified the “red flags” – or warning signs – that may help identify diploma mills:

  • Diploma mills do not have authority to operate or grant degrees from the education authorities where they claim to be based.
  • Diploma mills deliver degrees in a short space of time – sometimes a few days.
  • Diploma mills grant degrees based entirely on work or life experience.
  • Diploma mills offer contact details that are limited to email addresses and vague about the institution’s physical location.
  • Diploma mills allow students to choose their own course titles and specify graduation years on the certificate.
  • Diploma mills offer sample certificates, transcripts, or verification letters on the website.
  • Diploma mills make complicated or misleading claims about accreditation or recognition.
  • Diploma mills have names that are similar to that of a recognized and respected education institution.
  • Diploma mills use Internet domain names that are misleading.

According to the report, the United States is the world’s diploma mill capital and saw a 20 percent increase in known diploma mills in 2010. The report also found more than 40 percent of U.S. diploma mills operated in four states: California, Hawaii, Washington, and Florida.

To combat the rise of phony diploma mills offering worthless degrees in the United States, schools are generally accredited by private organizations recognized as legitimate accreditors by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education.

CHEA has created a Database of Institutions and Programs Accredited by Recognized United States Accrediting Organizations. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Post-Secondary Education (OPE) provides as a public service a Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Businesses in the United States also have to be on the lookout for diploma mills, according to Attorney Lester Rosen, Founder and CEO of San Francisco, CA-area background check firm Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) and author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual.’

“A diploma mill creates a danger to employers since educational achievements can tell a great deal about a job applicant’s ability, qualifications, and motivation,” says Rosen. He outlines how employers can check the education credentials of job applicants in his article ‘The Basics of Education Verifications.’

More Information about Diploma Mills from ESR

To read more about diploma mills, please visit For more information about Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority®’ – call toll free 888.999.4474 or visit

© 2015 Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – Making copies or using of any part of the ESR News Blog or ESR website for any purpose other than your own personal use is prohibited unless written authorization is first obtained from ESR.


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