The full cost of diploma mills

I’m posting this one because back when I was teaching adult ed, I was warned students would try to bribe their way through courses. I never got offered any money, but I did spend a remarkable amount of time having to explain that to get the credit, you had to meet attendance requirements and do the work.




The kicker, of course, is in those last two paragraphs. Of course, he is.


And Canada, and Pakistan, and a whole lot of other places.

I know someone whose job it was to get offshore teams up to scratch in ITIL. One of his team members left their book on their desk during a break, and he glanced through it, simply because he never saw them reading it or making notes.

There was one note: the info on taking the exam to get the certificate.

And that’s the crux: the pieces of paper were supposed to represent study. But people are just treating them as gateways.

Meanwhile, as discussed in other topics, there are people with lots of knowledge but no way to prove it.


That would be me. I don’t have any degrees and while I have taken Oracle and Cisco classes, don’t have the certifications. What I do have is a lot of experience and knowledge (I got my current job due to knowing FoxPro from when I worked at a company that used it). I’m in the process of learning Java and brushing up on my other skills. However, when I go out looking for another job, what do I see? BS in Computer Science, 4 years in Java development, blah blah blah. Pretty damn disheartening to see things like that and realize how much of a uphill battle I have to even get considered.


It is – I’m in a similar situation – but on the other hand those qualification listings are ridiculous. I saw one on Twitter the other day where they wanted 7 years’ experience in a language that was only 2 years old.

ETA: which feeds right into the hands of diploma mill operators.


yep, it’s a vicious cycle. I just need to code the next big app like Angry Birds and call it a day.


I used to manage a private school, we did massage therapy, which in Ontario, is a regulated profession. We have mandated educational standards that the program has to meet lest their certificate get yanked, oh and we got audited, 100%, every year, to ensure we were in compliance with provincial standards. This includes attendance. Because if I say we provide each student with X amount of instruction in Y topic, as per the guidelines I HAVE to follow to be a massage school, then I have to be able to prove that we do so.

I had so so so many conversations with adults about why we took attendance, why attendance mattered, and why we “cared” if they came to class or not. Like OMG do you honestly think I want to create giant endless spreadsheets that track your every coming and going? Cuz I really really don’t. The number of adults that would come see me in my office and just vaguely wave their hand at my computer and say “can’t you do something about this” - ugh. No, no I cannot. You missed too many classes, you have failed the course, we offer make up classes so that you meet the hourly minimums, but no I cannot “do something about this”.


Isn’t that really the problem with degrees in general and not just diploma mills?

I moved to Japan when I was 20, studied full time at a language school, got a job as an interpreter and by the time I was 24 I was fully capable of doing simultaneous interpreting in business meetings. When the company I worked for folded, I ended up moving back to the UK and, because I didn’t have a degree, I couldn’t persuade anyone to give me a job that matched my skillset.

Ten years and £50,000 worth of debt later, I have a degree from a reputable university but I’m nowhere near as fluent as I was a decade ago. The difference being, of course, that now I get headhunted for work I am less able (but more qualified) to do than I was a decade ago.

If I wasn’t so scared about getting caught and being deported, I absolutely would have gone down the diploma mill path ten years ago. Now I’m worse at my job but more qualified and £50,000 in debt; who does that really help?


When I taught in a regular high school I had a 16 year old miss over 70 classes (including one time I could see him throwing snowballs at the school from my class window). Every time I tried to called the parents – assuming they picked up – I’d hear all about the crisis the family was going through and how the mother (the dad was around, but the mother did all the talking to the school) about how they just could not deal with one more thing.

And okay. Things happen. Maybe school wasn’t where that kid needed to be that year (although he wasn’t exactly helping his family members either). But despite all the phone calls, they were shocked, shocked when he failed out of all his classes.

One thing I learned in this and other incidents is that to a lot of people the world seems full of random people telling them “no”, because it never seems to occur to them there are rules set up in the first place. Therefore every single bureaucratic interaction seems unfair and arbitrary, and indeed up to whatever chump got to explain things to them that day.

No wonder they’re overwhelmed and believe the important part is getting the piece of paper.

I’d love to know how to get across how things work, though. Not that it works perfectly, or fairly, but it does operate after a fashion.


I interpret fake diplomas to mean counterfeit ones. Calling other kinds of diplomas fake only calls attention to how many people look for short cuts in exercising any discernment. It is simply allowing complete strangers to vet for people for you, because it is convenient. If you don’t trust the person, you have them vetted by somebody who you do trust. This process makes it an institutional buck-passing that most appear to not think about very much. Credit is a very subjective notion, and letting others make those calls for you gets probably problematic sooner or later. It is an obvious side effect of societies which are designed to not know the difference between mere reputation, and reproducible evidence. So long as reputation is easier and more impressive, there will be a market for bullshit artists and inflated credentials. My experience is that most unfortunately are more easily impressed with who you “are”, rather than what you actually know.


Yes. That’s what the entire article is about.


Not at all, the article appears to deliberately blur the distinction. If I offer a diploma from Harvard University would be counterfeit, because their institution issues its own certificates. Whereas if I offer a diploma from “Popo’s Garage”, it is not counterfeit, it is merely not accredited by any “trusted party” of reputational middle-men.

But a game-able paper trail is a direct result of cultivating a market specifically for diplomas rather than, say, knowledge. The very concept of a “credential” is that one’s own personal discernment has become an institutionalized commodity. Deliberately or not, making higher education into a business actively creates its shadow, an economy of bullshit artists.


Where do I sign up?


So you’re saying it’s the other people’s fault for not doing due diligence in checking whether the institution is accredited or not?


No, I am not saying that it is their “fault”, but it is a responsibility that they find more convenient to pass on. The obvious question to follow up any claim of credit is “credited by whom”? It works the same way as weasel words in journalism. It is not my fault if somebody makes a dubious claim, but would be a lack of critical thought for me to take the claim at face value that “somebody says it’s legit!” What I am pointing out is that it is a weird mindset, and I think it is symptomatic of a larger societal conflict between whether we organize our participation based upon reputation, or evidence. It is of interest to me, but I don’t have any easy answers.


I think the diploma mills are a symptom of having no other realistic option. I’m over 10 years into a successful career and still moving up, but I don’t have a diploma, so a lot of doors are locked. I’d like to get one, but can’t afford to take 4 years off work, not pay bills or support my family, and go $100,000 or more into debt for tuition and books.

Furthermore, a lot of the college classes that do apply to my career are targeted at people with no knowledge or experience, which would be like going through elementary school again, a waste of my time and the professor’s. There are some classes that address concepts not commonly encountered on the job but which can be very valuable in affecting how you think about things on the job. But you can’t get a degree with just those.

There should be a clearer path for people who didn’t or don’t want to major in academia. A combination of work experience and a subset of courses that address topics that require more of a formal education than self-taught learning and on-the-job-experience provide. Something that provides a way for employed professionals to get the equivalent of a bachelors or masters degree.

That’s not to say that classical education shouldn’t be an option. When I was in college, the humanities and elective courses unrelated to my major that were the most valuable. But mixing that with work credentials kind of makes a mess of things. I think there should be separate but smaller/shorter degrees for general education degrees and work credential degrees. Of course, some jobs could require both, but it would give more flexibility and the ability to mix and match.

Misrepresenting an unaccredited degree as an accredited one is a fault, but so is not doing due diligence if you require an accredited one. Like if someone hands you a contract with a clause that screws you over, but you sign without reading it. They’re the bad guy, but you had your chance and screwed it up - or thought it was worth the risk to not bother.


How did we get to this place? Or is this where it was all along?

I can see two problems – students who feel that the certificate (diploma, whatever) is the goal, rather than the learning needed (or sometimes not) to get there. It becomes an end to itself – but it’s necessary because of the second problem: employers who want a quick and easy way (i.e., the certificate) to see whether someone will fit the job they have open. From what I’ve heard, “training on the job” is kind of a lost art; experience (sometimes exact experience) is also needed, like

Clearly that’s ridiculous. In the old days, people got a mentor to apprentice them. But I guess that takes time (= money), and employers aren’t willing to foot the bill anymore.


There used to a path for people like us to an MBA. Where you could use your IRL experience and expertise to parlay into an MBA. But now, almost all MBAs require not only a bachelors, but a bcomm. There are some “executive MBAs” that will take work experience but its a shrinking fucking pool.


Thats called an apprenticeship.