|BBB Warns Your Online Diploma could be a Worthless Piece of Paper
Sunday, October 11, 2009
It’s time to head back to school for many students and your local Better Business Bureau is warning consumers against online programs that offer fast and easy high school diplomas or college degrees. As millions struggle to find a job, earning a diploma or an advanced degree is one way to stand out from the crowd, but some students have found out the hard way that the diploma they thought they earned online wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
Distance learning and online-based classes have become an increasingly popular option for students of all ages. According to a 2008 survey from the Sloan Consortium and Babson Survey Research Group, 3.9 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in 2007, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. More than 20 percent of higher education students were taking at least one online course. Unfortunately, not all institutions offering online diplomas or degrees are legitimate and too often individuals looking to get ahead are being duped by diploma mills.
“Education is an important factor when it comes to getting ahead in life and having a high school diploma or advanced degree can certainly make a difference when it comes to landing a higher-paying job,” said Tim Burns, Public Affairs Director of the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan. “While the Internet is a great tool to assist in furthering educational advancement, it also creates opportunities for diploma mills to scam people into buying worthless certificates under the guise of acquiring a high school diploma or college degree.”
BBB is warning consumers to be wary of online diploma mills, including the following four in particular:
Belford High School and Belford University
The BBB has received 119 complaints from students in more than 40 states who paid for high school diplomas and advanced degrees from BelfordHighschool.com and BelfordUniversity.org.
Students were led to believe that Belford High School was accredited and that more than 99 percent of colleges would accept its diploma. Students paid as much as $674 and earned their high school diploma by taking an online test or by qualifying through “life experience.”
Belford University offers associate, bachelors and advanced degrees based on “life experience” including degrees in nursing, accounting, and even a Doctorate of Medicine degree which cost one complainant $1,400. In addition to receiving a diploma, students also received a phony transcript that claims they took classes such as Aromatherapy and Introduction to Aerosol Science.
Most people learned that their Belford diplomas and degrees were worthless from college admissions offices or military recruiters and several received the bad news during a job interview.
Jefferson High School Online and Vencer High School Online
BBB has also received complaints from consumers who say they passed Jefferson High School Online’s test and paid more than $200 to receive a high school diploma. When the students tried to enroll in college using the diploma they were told that it was not valid.
The first part of the test is a questionnaire that asks students several “life experience” questions, including what type of music they like, how often they listen to music or read and how physically active they are. Jefferson High School Online’s Web site says the answers on this portion of the test will count toward the students “elective and life experiences credits.”
After students complete the life experience questionnaire they are given a multiple choice test in language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. If a student answers a question incorrectly they are given a hint, and three more chances to select the correct answer from the four possible answers given for each question.
Jefferson High School Online is owned by MMDS Ltd., based out of St. Kitts, a small country in the eastern Caribbean. MMDS Ltd. also operates a Web site called Vencer High School Online. Aside from using a different name, the site is an exact replica of Jefferson High School, and offers the same services.
BBB cites the following red flags to help identify diploma mills:
· Degrees or diplomas are awarded based on “life experience” and require very little or no work.
· The institution guarantees you will receive a degree or diploma.
· The institution offers deals if you sign up to receive more than one degree at a time, such as a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree for one low price.
· Prices are stated per degree instead of per credit hour.
“Some scams encourage you to get an online high school diploma to avoid having to take the GED Test,” noted Burns. “Be wary of any company or online high school that offers a diploma or GED certification by having you pass a quick online test. You can only achieve a GED certification through taking a timed 7 hour test at an approved onsite location that takes some effort to pass.”
The General Educational Development Testing Service also advises people that GED credentials cannot be earned via the Internet or through correspondence programs. The General Education Development (GED) Test certifies academic proficiency for adults who have not earned a traditional high school diploma. GED tests can only be taken at an official testing center and are administered locally be each of the 50 states, U.S. military, and federal correctional institutions. A complete list of testing agencies is available at www.gedtest.org.
“Spending a few hundred dollars to avoid the GED test may seem like a good investment, until you realize you’ve just purchased a worthless piece of paper that no employer or college will accept,” added Burns. “Invest in yourself and pass the GED exam instead of trying to find an Internet quick fix. Obtaining a GED certification is a credible means to assist with furthering your educational and career goals.”
Always check out any business or organization with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org before spending your money. Also make sure any college or university you enroll in is accredited from one of the six regional accreditation boards. The U.S. Department of Education has a searchable database of accredited post-secondary schools at: http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation.