Diploma mill

From Academic Kids

A diploma mill (also known as a degree mill) is an organization which awards academic degrees and diplomas with little or no academic study, and without recognition by official bodies. Such organizations are unaccredited by standards of traditional institutions, but they often claim accreditation by non-standard organizations set up for the purposes of providing a veneer of authenticity. Many diploma mills claim to offer these qualifications on the basis of "life experience," but many only require a payment to issue a qualification. They are used to fraudulently claim academic credentials for use in securing employment (e.g., a schoolteacher might get a degree from one in order to advance to superintendent).

Common attributes of diploma mills

Diploma mills often have names that are deliberately chosen to sound confusingly similar to prestigious accredited institutions. They often claim to be accredited, even when they are not. Some even go to the lengths of inventing their own accreditation organizations to endorse them, complete with superficially convincing websites modelled on those of real accreditation organizations. The more elaborate operations come complete with services such as transcripts with online and telephone verification for potential employers investigating a customer's credentials.

Compared to legitimate schools, diploma mills have drastically reduced or nonexistent requirements for academic coursework. Some allow customers to simply buy credentials while others will have clients engage in some exercises or submit written reports about relevant 'life experience' before awarding degrees.

Some diploma mills claim to be based in small countries with unusual circumstances, even though they are selling to customers outside those countries.


Degrees and diplomas issued by diploma mills are frequently used for fraudulent purposes, such as obtaining employment, raises or customers on false pretenses. Even if issuing or receiving a diploma mill qualification is legal, passing it off as an accredited one for personal gain is a crime in many jurisdictions. In some cases, the diploma mill may itself be guilty of an offence, if it knew or ought to have known that the qualifications it issues are used for fraudulent purposes. Diploma mills could also be guilty of fraud if they mislead customers into believing that the qualifications they issue are accredited or recognised, or make false claims that they will lead to career advancement, and extort money on the basis of these claims.

Diploma mills are mainly found in jurisdictions which have not adopted tough laws to prohibit them, such as many parts of the United States. For example, in Australia, it is a criminal offence to call an institution a university, or issue university degrees, without authorisation through an act of federal or state parliament. Thus, diploma mills are not as much of a problem in Australia.

One issue under Australian law is the use of the term "university" by many corporate training programs. Although such use of the term might be argued to be illegal, in practice it is tolerated since everyone understands that such programs are not actually universities.

Although the DipScam operation in the 1980s led to a decline in diploma mill activity across the United States the lack of further action by law enforcement, uneven state laws, and the rise of the Internet have combined to reverse many of the gains made in previous years.

In the United States some degree mills take advantage of the constitutional division between church and state by establishing themselves as ersatz Bible colleges which can legally offer degrees in religious subjects without government regulation.


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