In 2009, Rochville University, an online college specializing in "life experience degrees" based on resume reviews, awarded an MBA to Vermont dog Chester Ludlow for $499.
Yet Rochville's degrees, awarded based on work experience, continue to be listed by hundreds of professionals on their LinkedIn resumes. LinkedIn, a popular online networking site, allows users to post a resume and work history to promote their expertise and network with potential employers.
Besides Rochville, many other colleges that have been revealed as degree mills are listed by LinkedIn users on their resumes—thousands of professionals are claiming fake degrees as the foundation for their professional expertise.
HR screeners be forewarned: degree and resume fraud is rampant on LinkedIn and in the United States in general.
Research by Get Educated uncovered 457 LinkedIn members listing fake degrees from Rochville University on their resumes, including an assistant vice president at Merrill Lynch Commodities; a language instructor at the University of Virginia; and a criminal justice consultant (retired from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Chief Fraud Division).
Almeda University, which has been called the leading diploma mill in the United States by Alan Contreras, administrator of Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization, is listed even more frequently than Rochville. A search of LinkedIn for professionals listing Almeda on their educational resumes yielded 1,791 results.
Among Almeda alumni: the lead consultant forensic psychologist at a UK mental health facility, a systems engineer at NASA, and a contract manager at an aerospace firm in Denver.
Why do employers continue to hire people who publicly list fake degrees?
“Diploma mills are a major problem for employers,” says Kellie O’Shea, human resources professional with Creative Services, Inc., a background screening company. “They provide diplomas, transcripts, references, website portals and phone numbers to contact them to obtain verifications.”
Unsuspecting employer representatives looking to verify education information are often unaware that they are dealing with a fake college, says O'Shea.
Chester the pug, for instance, received not only a fake degree and two sets of fake transcripts from Rochville, but also a phone number he could give to any employer seeking to “verify” his college attendance.
Only about 34 percent of employers check the educational qualifications listed on resumes, according to a 2004 study by the Society for Human Resource Management—even though the association found that 25 percent of people inflated their educational achievements on resumes.
Among the minority of employers who do check college credentials, most only check a student's attendance or graduation dates. Almost none check whether the university itself is properly accredited.
“One reason online degree mills continue to thrive,” explains GetEducated.com founder Vicky Phillips, “is that employers are confused about college accreditation. All degree mills are accredited. The trick is that they are accredited by fake agencies—agencies that they themselves have created.”
Rochville claims accreditation by the Board of Online Universities Accreditation and the Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation.
“Rochville may indeed be ‘accredited’ by these agencies, but neither agency is recognized as a college accreditor by the U.S. Department of Education—or by any other valid international accrediting body,” says Phillips.
Nick Fishman, chief marketing officer of EmployeeScreenIQ, says that even though the number of diploma mills is growing, awareness of the problem is also increasing. He believes more employers today are checking educational credentials.
The number of companies verifying schools and degrees are "tough to get a handle on," says Fishman, but "organizations are getting more cognizant about it."
The current tough economy, says Fishman, has resulted in more would-be employees trying to pass off fake college degrees.
Phillips estimates that more than 75 percent of people in the United States who buy fake degrees know exactly what they are doing.
“A real online MBA costs more than $35,000, but can raise your earning potential by $10,000 per year," she says. "If you can get a fake MBA for less than $500 in under 30 days, and qualify instantly for a $10,000 raise, well, that’s more financial temptation than many can tolerate.”
For many companies, says Fishman, “There is no margin for error anymore—if you hire the wrong person, it costs money to replace them."
Other costs to companies when employees purchase credentials from degree mills:
“When a company fills a position and holds a person out to be an expert and boasts about credentials and education, it’s a PR nightmare to find out they don’t have the actual degree or it’s a degree from a diploma mill,” says O'Shea.
Employers who want to check out traditional and online schools to see if they are legitimately accredited, says Fishman, "can do this pretty easily once they know what they are doing."
To help employers understand online college accreditation, Get Educated has developed a free service called the Diploma Mill Police. This free accreditation verification service provides factual information about online college accreditation. The free service also provides advice on how to spot and avoid online education scams.
Pug Dog Gets Online MBA: a Cautionary Tale (YouTube video)
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