Article - Accreditation and Quality Assurance Diploma Mills and Fraud:

The existence of unaccredited, substandard, and fraudulent postsecondary education providers is a global phenomenon, as is the existence of unrecognized and/or fraudulent accreditors.  It is imperative that students interested in quality postsecondary education focus on institutions that are accredited by recognized national competent authorities, such as recognized accrediting agencies. Unaccredited institutions and institutions claimed recognition by bogus accrediting agencies should be avoided.  The credits and degrees awarded by unaccredited and bogus providers are unlikely to be recognized by legitimately accredited institutions, official professional licensing authorities, recognition authorities or reputable employers.


For recognized U.S. institutions of higher education and postsecondary career and technical schools, go to Institutions and Programs.


The following resources can help you to avoid substandard and unaccredited institutions, unrecognized accrediting bodies, and academic frauds that have been or are being investigated and prosecuted.





Diploma Mills and Accreditation is the U.S. Department of Education’s overview and guide to how to recognize fraudulent institutions and accrediting bodies.


Scholarship Scams is the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s guide to avoiding fake offers of student financial assistance.


GAO Reports on Diploma Mills provides links to reports on diploma mills issued by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), the investigation and auditing agency of the U.S. Congress that has examined how the diploma mill problem affects both U.S. citizens and the federal government.





NOTE: Because state governments actually oversee the organization and structure of U.S. higher education, the state agencies that publish information about diploma mills and accreditation mills are very important.  Several states agencies now have the legal power to publish “negative lists” of unapproved, unaccredited, or illegal providers.


Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Guide to Unaccredited Degree-Granting Institutions provides links to information on Hawaii’s actions to combat diploma mills, including lists of providers that have recently been prosecuted.


Maine Department of Education Degree Mills and Accreditation Mills Page provides information on Maine laws and procedures and a list of unaccredited institutions known to operate in Maine.


Michigan List of Unaccredited Institutions and Unrecognized Accrediting Bodies is the official Michigan list of illegal providers and accreditors known to operate in that state.


Minnesota Office of Higher Education Tips for Validating a School’s Claims provides links to information resources on state-approved institutions, fraud complaints, and related matters.


New Jersey Statutes & Regulations Regarding Academic Degrees provides information and links to New Jersey regulations prohibiting the use of qualifications earned from institutions not accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.


Oregon Office of Degree Authorization (ODA) provides extensive and authoritative information on diploma ills and other unaccredited institutions, state policies on regulating unaccredited institutions, as well as links to other authorities and an extensive list of diploma mills and other unaccredited and unrecognized providers.   The Oregon ODA is considered authoritative by many other states and is frequently referred to by international authorities as well.


ODA Accreditation Page provides information and a list of accrediting agencies known to be unrecognized and/or fraudulent.


Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board List of Illegal Institutions and Degrees provides a directory of unrecognized and fraudulent institutions know to operate in Texas.


Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board Degree Authorization Page provides information on how institutions and programs are approved, how to avoid diploma mills, and links to state directories and authorities.


Wisconsin Education Approval Board Resources Page provides extensive information on recognized institutions, fraudulent academic credentials,  diploma mills, and the legal process for approving a postsecondary education provider.





Both UNESCO and the Council of Europe (COE) have suffered due to diploma mill and accreditation mill websites claiming that these international organizations recognize institutions or accrediting bodies.  International organizations have no authority to do this, and mere affiliation with such an organization does not in any way confer educational status or recognition.  Neither UNESCO nor the Council of Europe accredit or recognize institutions of higher education, nor do they recognize or approve accrediting agencies.


UNESCO Disclaimer

Council of Europe (COE) Disclaimer


In addition, several countries have published official warnings and/or lists of unrecognized providers operating in their territory.  These include:


Australian Government Fake Degrees and Unaccredited Providers Alert

Indian University Grants Commission (UGC) Fake University Alerts

Netherlands Center for Information on Diploma Mills (CIDM)

Avoiding Bogus Degrees (UK)





CHEA Degree Mills Page provides information and resources on diploma (degree) mills from the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).


EAIE Diploma Mills Presentation is a useful guide to resources as well as what to look for in diploma mill websites and advertising, by Ann M. Koenig and various U.S. experts on academic fraud.  Presented at the EAIE annual conference in Basel, Switzerland, 2006.


Dr. John Bear’s Guide on Degree.Net is a detailed introduction to distance learning and the problem of distance learning fraud by one of the leading private authorities on academic fraud and distance education.


Buying a PhD from a University that Doesn’t Exist is a detailed analysis of the fakery involved in sample online diploma mill claims by Dr. George Gollin, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of physics.




See also:       School-Level Accreditation

Postsecondary Accreditation

Federal Recognition and Approval

State Approval and Licensure

                   Other Quality Assurance Provisions

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