Be On the Alert Against Unaccredited Online Diplomas

Posted on March 11 2011

... Or see $300 (or more) go down the drain. Here's the story of a mother from Plainwell Michigan who experienced the disappointment of working with a diploma mill. Amanda Burkhead went to a website that offered a high school diploma. The mother of two saw an online high school program as an opportunity to get a better future not just for her but also for her children. She decided to earn credits to graduate from high school so she could get to the next step - college.

Unfortunately, she enrolled in what can be considered a diploma mill. Diploma mills provide high school (and even college and graduate) credits and diplomas in exchange for your cash. Usually, there is very little coursework involved and the process of getting the "diploma" is quick and easy.

Burkhead paid $300 to sign up for "online high school classes" only to be confronted with a series of tests involving subjects such as English, Math, Science and History. It took her two hours to finish the tests. There were no classes or coursework to speak of - and she was not required to turn in any assignments.

A few weeks after she completed the tests, Burkhead received her diploma, as well as transcripts of the classes one needed to complete high school, as well as her GPA and grades. The documents provided looked as if she had attended classes, when indeed she had not.

She then presented her high school diploma and accreditation to 15 colleges, only to find out that no one would accept her based on these credentials. One college counsellor even told her that the high school diploma she as holding was not worth the paper it's printed on - it was worthless.

Check for Accreditation

To spare yourself from the heartache and expense that Burkhead experienced, it will be wise to check a virtual high school's accreditation. Please note that there are legitimate online high school programs that offer high school credits that enable you to get an actual high school diploma. You just need to be careful and check the school's accreditation to avoid being a victim of a diploma mill.

Accreditation shows that the school has complied with a certain level of standards in terms of curriculum, qualified teachers, organizational mission, vision and goals, as well as physical facilities and school administration. When an online high school is accredited in a specific region, this means that the credits or diploma from that school will be recognized by employers, the U.S. Military and by colleges and universities (based on their discretion and also their own admission policies).

Here are some ways you can check whether the online school you are planning to enrol is legitimate and that your efforts and money will not go to waste:

  • Check with the college you are planning to enrol in. Ask them whether they know of the online school and whether that institution is acceptable.
  • Check the accrediting entity named in the online school. There may also be diploma mills that claim accreditation but do not show proof of such or are accredited by an agency that is not recognized by the Department of Education.
  • Check with the local Better Business Bureau to find out the ratings of the online school. Be wary of schools that are not listed in the BBB.
  • Check whether the fees are based on the entire degree or are charged per course. Usually, diploma mills charge on a per degree basis.
  • Check the coursework required - how long each course is slated to be finished, what are the requirements for each course and whether there are opportunities to interact with the school faculty online. Usually, diploma mills require little or no coursework and advertise that you can get your diploma in as little as a few weeks. Be on the alert if the online school promises you a quick and easy diploma.
  • Study their website. Commonly, diploma mills look fake due to the fact that the website contains a lot of errors in spelling and grammar.

A Quality and Accredited Online School

It is best to work with an accredited online high school such as The American Academy. The American Academy is accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission. This means that The American Academy has documented compliance with the NAC's standards and has gained regional accreditation.

When you have completed the necessary coursework and are awarded a diploma from The American Academy, you will find the Northwest Accreditation Commission seal embossed on the diploma. This seal is only available to members.