Is an “institution offering fraudulent or substandard degrees” the same as a diploma mill?
The Texas legislature chose to use the phrase "institution offering fraudulent or substandard degrees" to describe the institutions from which consumers need protection. The phrase covers both institutions that intend to defraud the public and those who may not intend fraud but, by their substandard operations, accomplish the same bad result. In either case, they offer degrees with little or no serious work. Some sell the degrees through a web site or by sending money to a mailbox, often claiming to "assess your life experiences." Others require some nominal amount of work from the student, often in a traditional classroom setting, but do not require coursework as rigorous as that required by legitimate colleges.
Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "diploma mill" as "an institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless." Another term often used to describe these institutions is "degree mill."
Are institutions offering fraudulent or substandard degrees really a problem?
Defrauding the public by offering fraudulent or substandard degrees is a crime. Worldwide the problem is huge but, being an illegal activity, its cost to the public is difficult to determine. It has been estimated that this industry generates a half billion dollars a year. That figure does not include the loss of money and time by employers deceived when fraudulent degree holders are hired, promoted, or given raises; by state licensing agencies and employers, both public and private, to screen out fraudulent degrees; and by the public depending on the false claims of the fraudulent degree-holders when purchasing goods and services. In addition, the public is endangered when fraudulent degree-holders obtain employment in criminal justice agencies, or in public and private schools or health fields, such as medicine, nursing, or public health.
What are some of the warning signs that an institution may be offering fraudulent or substandard degree?
The number one warning sign:
Other warning signs:
Does an ".edu" extension of an Internet web address mean that a school is legitimate?
No. Some institutions offering fraudulent or substandard degrees and some unaccredited schools have been able to obtain ".edu" extensions. There is currently no action underway to make these institutions cease using such extensions. An ".edu" extension means nothing regarding a school's quality, legitimacy, or accreditation status. However, the lack of an “.edu” extension is a warning sign that the institution may not be legitimate and warrants further investigation before enrolling.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
Accreditation is a system of institutional self-regulation to assure educational quality. The review is conducted by an accrediting association consisting of institutions that have met or exceeded agreed upon educational standards. Accreditation is a system that has been in use for over 100 years to assure that colleges and universities meet the minimal expectations of educational quality. This self regulation assures that higher education professionals determine educational practices. Accreditation has been an essential part of the reputation the United States has earned for having the finest higher education system in the world.
Accreditation is “voluntary”, so doesn't that mean it is optional and not necessary?
Accreditation is voluntary in that the process of accreditation requires the full cooperation with and complete participation in the process of accreditation by the college or university seeking accreditation. At the heart of the accreditation process is a self-study prepared by the college or university demonstrating its commitment to the standards of accreditation.
Since accreditation is the primary means of determining the legitimacy and quality of colleges and universities in the United States, to describe the process as "voluntary" is not to describe it as "optional" or "unnecessary."
Isn’t accreditation an unnecessary means of assuring educational quality? After all, Harvard is not accredited.
Though the story is much older than the term "urban legend," that is what the Harvard story is. Not only is Harvard University accredited, it has been accredited for over seven decades. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges first accredited Harvard in 1929. In addition, Harvard Divinity School has been accredited by the Association of Theological Schools since 1940.
What is the difference between accreditation and state certification?
Accreditation is a quality review conducted by private associations of colleges and universities to assure educational standards are met. Certification is a quality review conducted by the state of Texas to assure that the public is protected from institutions offering fraudulent or substandard degrees.
Why does the state regulate private post secondary schools if there is accreditation?
The certification process establishes legal authority to operate, a requirement of all accreditors. The certification process also protects the public while colleges are seeking accreditation and protects the public from those institutions avoiding accreditation in order to offer fraudulent or substandard degrees.
Foreign institutions generally do not have accreditation, so how are foreign institutions evaluated?
The National Council on the Evaluation of Foreign Academic Credentials created standards for interpreting foreign educational credentials and degrees from institutions located outside the United States. That Council consists of several associations, including the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), who understand the various educational systems around the world.
Colleges and universities as well as private foreign credential evaluation services use these standards to assess the degrees held by individuals who wish to use the degrees for employment or admission to colleges or universities in the United States.
There is no governmental oversight of foreign credential evaluation services, nor does the Coordinating Board recommend any particular foreign credential evaluation service. However, we suggest that individuals seeking to have a foreign degree evaluated seek a reputable evaluator. The Board notes that AACRAO has an evaluation service. Information about that service can be found at www.aacrao.org/international/foreignEdCred.cfm. Also, the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES), a professional association of private foreign educational credential evaluation services, may be of help in finding a reputable evaluator. Information about that association can be found at www.naces.org.
Are religiously affiliated institutions exempt from state oversight under the First Amendment of the US Constitution?
No. The provisions of the Texas Education Code narrowly regulate certain activities that are academic only, and since these provisions do not regulate any religious practice, there is no conflict between the state's oversight of degree-granting and the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Does the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act exempt religiously affiliated institutions from state regulation?
No, the Attorney General issued an opinion (JC-0200) that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not exempt religiously-affiliated institutions from the requirements under the Texas Education Code (Chapter 61, Subchapter G). That opinion further states that a court would likely rule that the statute and the Coordinating Board rules implementing the statute “are the least restrictive means of achieving the state's interest in maintaining the integrity of the post secondary degrees and protecting its citizens from fraud and misleading representations.”
Is the Texas Education Code interfering with religious practices?
The statute does not regulate any religious practice. Institutions that have a religious affiliation are free to exercise their religious beliefs. The law is written to regulate very narrowly those activities that are academic only, such as representations that the instruction is college level or that the student can receive a degree, and not to impinge on any religious practice or belief.
In addition, institutions that do not wish to meet the academic standards of a higher educational institution are free to teach and prepare students for ministry positions as long as they do not assert that the level of their education is collegiate, either by offering degrees or calling the institution a college, university, or seminary.
Doesn’t accreditation force religious institutions to compromise their religious beliefs?
No. Accreditation standards address only educational quality. Accrediting associations are member organizations and it is from the membership of the various schools that the standards are created. The member institutions of the legitimate accrediting associations consist of schools affiliated with every kind of religious denomination. There are even specialized accreditors for Bible colleges and for seminaries. No legitimate accreditor enforces any particular theological understanding, doctrine, or theology. Not only would that go beyond the scope of their purpose of assuring educational quality, their member institutions would not tolerate it.