"Diploma mill" is the international generic term for bodies and individuals engaged in the sale of diplomas and academic degrees. The key feature of a diploma mill is that it has nothing to do with education; in fact, it is a company selling diplomas without any study programme being followed. The mills are active in various formats and do not fall under the education legislation of the country in which they are located. Ergo, a diploma awarded by a mill lacks any (educational) value.
Diploma mills tend to refer to their revolutionary teaching methods. Thus, they aim to dismiss arguments regarding the lack of education as outmoded and conservative. The so-called recognition of the institution or the diplomas is frequently expounded. Such recognition may be issued by governments such as individual American states, Caribbean islands, Liberia, Seborga or UNESCO. They sometimes entail an actual accreditation, but in most cases it involves an accreditation mill: an organisation that is not recognised as a quality assurance organisation and/or does not carry out any actual accreditation procedures.
To be trusted or not?
Be careful if you notice (a number of) the following features:
- the "institution" does not have a visiting address, just a post box or a “suite number”;
- the telephone number connects to a call centre, an answering machine, or a mobile phone;
- the website shows a sample diploma;
- the "institution" provides non-traditional education and/or distance learning, and grants credits based on life and work experience);
- the "institution" claims to be recognised by an individual US state (Wyoming and Montana are notorious in this respect), the government of small islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean (St. Kitts and Nevis), or countries such as Liberia, with little or no government regulation in higher education;
- the website does not provide any information on faculties, staff, curricula, et cetera;
- diplomas can be ordered exactly the way you want: post-dated, with a particular judicium, et cetera;
- the website shows credit card logos;
- the name of the “institution” is (virtually) identical to that of a regular, well-known university, e.g., "Columbia State University" (versus the real Columbia University), “Cambridge International University” (versus the real Cambridge University), and "Trinity College and University" (versus the real Trinity College).