In order to combat the problem of degree mills, the Department of Education recently created a new website that lists the thousands of accredited universities, colleges, trade and career schools across the United States.
The government website www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation is intended to help students ensure that the school they are considering is in fact a legitimate, accredited school, and not a degree mill.
Degree mills are defined by the U.S. Government Accountability Office as “nontraditional, unaccredited, postsecondary schools that offer degrees for a relatively low flat fee, promote the award of academic credits based on life experience, and do not require any classroom instruction.”
It may be extremely difficult for students to identify a school as a degree mill without researching the school.
According to research done in September 2004 by the GAO, schools like Pacific Western University in Los Angeles do not allow students to enroll in individual courses or training. Instead, students pay a flat fee to obtain their degrees: $2,295 for a Bachelor of Science degree, $2,395 for a master’s degree in business administration, and $2,595 for a Ph.D.
The GAO also found that many degree mills use names similar to those used by accredited schools, which often leads to degree mills being mistaken for accredited schools, and vice versa.
On the other hand, for every degree mill in operation, there are just as many, if not more, legitimate, unaccredited schools across the United States.
“There are a variety of educational purposes that people seek, and these programs don’t necessarily need accreditation,” said Lee West, special assistant to the executive director for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Schools like Bryman College, which specializes in medical training, and ITT Technical Institute, which specializes in technical training, fall under this category.
“An unaccredited school doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a low-quality school, or a degree mill,” said Ralph Wolff, executive director of the Senior College Commission for WASC.
However, the trouble with unaccredited schools, according to Wolff, is that it may be more difficult for graduates of these schools to find jobs in their field.
“The employer may not always be assured that the degree (from an unaccredited school) is valid, because the school has not been reviewed by an accrediting body,” Wolff said.
Furthermore, those with degrees from unaccredited schools may encounter obstacles when applying for graduate school. Wolff said it is “very difficult” to get into graduate school with a degree from an unaccredited school, and that the student would need a lot of life experience in order to compete with students from accredited universities.
Also, unaccredited schools operate without the oversight of the Department of Education, and as a result, do not qualify to offer their students federal student aid programs, Wolff said.
Though some unaccredited schools “sometimes offer innovative classes,” if students have the opportunity to attend an accredited school over an unaccredited one, they should, Wolff said.
“Accreditation ensures that the school is following standards,” Wolff said.