Degrees of Deception: Are Consumers and Employers Being Duped by Online Universities and Diploma Mills?
Center for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies Working Paper No. 51
81 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2006
The advent of the Internet has opened the door for a record-breaking number of consumers to obtain legitimate online higher education. However, using deceptive practices, unscrupulous individuals have harnessed the power of the Internet and spam mail to provide consumers with an easy way to obtain dubious bachelor's and graduate degrees. Some online schools require their students to complete academic work to earn their degrees but lack any accreditation recognized by the United States Department of Education. Other degree providers are nothing more than diploma mills, that is, fake schools that sell "authentic-looking" degrees to consumers without requiring them to complete any academic work. While federal and state enforcement agencies have limited ability to use their jurisdictional powers to criminally prosecute fake degree providers, these agencies have no effective legal mechanism to deal with inferior-quality, unaccredited schools or to protect consumers who are deceived into believing their unaccredited degrees are legitimate. To curb the supply of bogus and substandard unaccredited degrees, this article proposes a model federal statute, the Authentic Credentials in Higher Education Act, that imposes criminal liability on operators of fake and substandard unaccredited schools, and civil liability on schools with un-recognized degree programs if they fail to make certain disclosures. To deter the demand for fake and unaccredited degrees, this article proposes amendment to a federal statute to permit supervisors to discipline current employees with such degrees. A mass media awareness campaign is also proposed to empower consumers and employers to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate degrees.
Keywords: mail-order degrees, fake degrees
JEL Classification: I20, I24, I28, K20, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation