A diploma mill is an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of lack of proper standards worthless, according to the Oregon Student Assistance Commission Office of Degree Authorization. Diploma mills, which are also referred to as degree mills, generally offer students degrees for a fee without students actually doing real coursework and earning their grades and degrees. Diploma and degree mills work in different ways, but either way the degrees that come out are fraudulent and worthless and deprive students of a quality education. Some degree mills basically give students fake degrees through the mail after the individual pays a certain fee, while others require students to do some work to earn their degree. However, this work is not considered college-level and does not amount to anything near the real work and effort a college student puts into earning their degree from an accredited learning institution.

Diploma mills are a legitimate concern for college students because many students enroll with institutions under the assumption and trust that they are real and legitimate institutions, when in actuality the diploma mill is a fraudulent business disguising itself as a real college, university, or learning institution. In the diploma mills that actually require work, students are required to submit their work and assignments, and after they aren't really checked and evaluated by the school, a degree is awarded. Having a fake degree is not only a waste of money, but will not get anyone very far in the career and professional world, as stated by the U.S. Department of Education. Most employers will not hire employees with fake degrees, and graduate and doctoral schools will not admit students with fake degrees into their programs. Students can protect themselves against diploma mills by finding out as much about the institution as possible before committing to enroll with that learning institution.

Some students do not even know they are being scammed by diploma mills and that is why researching and verifying facts about the learning institution you wish to pursue is extremely important. In some cases, spotting a diploma mill may be easy according to the Federal Trade Commission. Diploma mills claim to be accredited, but in fact use a bogus or fake accrediting agency. A search of the accrediting agency can verify that the agency is bogus and that the learning institution is fraudulent. Some diploma mills also choose names that sounds very similar to those of real colleges and universities and even though they may have a "dot edu" web address, it doesn't mean that they are legitimate, according to the site. Other signs of diploma mills include schools that grant degrees for "work or life experience", those that do not require attendance, those that offer degrees overnight or in a very short period of time, those that charge a flat fee, and those that advertise through spam and pop-ups. The best way to ensure you aren't being mislead by a diploma mill is to do your research and ensure that you are enrolling in a legitimate learning institution.

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