By George White
New America Media
Federal law enforcement agencies and their state-based watchdog partners are stepping up efforts to protect the integrity of academic degrees by shutting down education programs that are not fully accredited. They’re also cracking down on alleged degree-for-fee scams that help some enrollees commit fraud or that saddle unsuspecting students with worthless diplomas.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently brought charges against operators of online “high schools” nationwide that allegedly made millions of dollars by charging from $135 to $349 for a “worthless” certificate.
In a restraining order request filed in a U.S. District Court in Arizona, the FTC says the Scottsdale-based Capitol Network Distance Learning Programs used websites with programs bearing names such as “Capitol High School” and “Metro High School” to dupe consumers, including Spanish speakers.
“The defendants took advantage of people who wanted a high school diploma,” said Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If a company says you can get a diploma in no time at all or by simply taking an online test, it's almost certainly a scam.”
The FTC said that the company misled people who sought out the online programs in order to “get jobs, apply for college and even join the military, only to find out that their diplomas were not recognized.”
In Houston, the staff of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is taking aim at Parkview Home School, which allegedly marketed and sold fraudulent high school diplomas and transcripts.
The attorney general says the company made $1.4 million off some 42,000 students in Texas. Paxton’s suit says Parkview employs no teachers, requires “little or no coursework” and has provided diplomas and transcripts in one or two days. Paxton’s office says Parkview’s degrees “generally are not accepted by community colleges, four-year universities, trade schools, the military, law enforcement academies, or employers – despite the defendants’ misleading online claims.”
In Cleveland, the impending prosecution of a Pakistani company accused of running a global diploma mill will be of interest to both victims and investigators. Last year, Cleveland’s Better Business Bureau responded to a complaint from an individual who said that an online operation known as Must University failed to provide a master’s degree in exchange for more than $3,000 in payments. The individual claimed that Must University promised to “give me the master degree based on my experience and I do not have to study.” The operation has since been linked to a software company based in Pakistan.
In Los Angeles, the U.S. attorney’s office is prosecuting the owner of four trade colleges that allegedly ran an elaborate “pay-to-stay” scam in which many foreign nationals used student visas to stay in the United States without actually attending classes.
Authorities say many foreign students paid up to $1,800 for six months’ “tuition” so that they would appear to be enrolled and eligible to remain in the United States. Investigators said the main school in the alleged scam is Prodee University, located in Los Angeles. It is affiliated with two Los Angeles schools – Walter Jay M.D. Institute and American College of Forensic Studies – and Likie Fashion and Technology College in nearby Alhambra.
The owner of the schools, Hee Sun Shim, was arrested on immigration fraud charges last year. His trial is scheduled to begin in May.
In Illinois and Washington, the state attorneys general are monitoring the for-profit Education Management Corporation to ensure that the company complies with a legal settlement that prohibits unfair and deceptive business practices at its colleges and trade schools.
Under the agreement that the company made late last year with Illinois, Washington, and 37 other states, the company must provide millions in loan forgiveness to about 80,000 former students nationwide due to fraud related to tuition costs and the accreditation status of some of its classes.
The agreement also prohibits the company from enrolling students in classes that do not have state accreditation. Education Management’s schools operate in more than 100 locations in the United States and Canada.
“Student borrowers victimized by deceptive practices deserve loan relief and legal protection,” says Washington State Attorney Bob Ferguson. “My office will hold accountable any for-profit college that doesn’t play by the rules, or tries to take advantage of the aspirations of Washington students.”
The Better Business Bureau in Atlanta warns, “As many people struggle to find a job, earning a diploma or an advanced degree is one way to stand out from the crowd, but unless the educational institution is certified and legitimate, the degree obtained won’t be worth the paper it was printed on.”
*The agency says that the following are signs that an online program may be a diploma mill:
*The program claims it can provide a degree based on a person’s experience, and requires no studies or exams
*The online service charges students on a per-degree basis instead of the per-semester or per-course charges that legitimate colleges assess
*If a program promises you can earn a degree very quickly – in days, weeks or even months – “it’s probably a diploma mill.”
Source: New America Media
Printed in the July 24, 2016 - August 6, 2016 edition.