November 15, 2004
By AMY RUTLEDGE
6 News Anchor/Reporter
KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Online diploma mills are a booming business that allow users to bypass the books and put up some cash for a quicker but more deceptive degree.
Typing "Internet degree" in a search engine finds a page full of replies. 6 News found one site called instantdegrees.com. The company touts getting a degree and legal use of a title in just days with no attendance.
For $160, 6 News turned executive producer Bill Doblilas into a doctor of philosophy in five days. He received a back-dated diploma and the potential to buy transcripts to go along with it.
There's no phone number listed to contact the company so 6 News e-mailed a list of questions. The only response was an e-mail about the company's responsibility to make sure applicants understand the FAQs. The same e-mail says that's why the company can't answer questions addressed in the FAQs.
A confidentiality agreement that came with the diploma basically threatens legal action if a connection is made public between the site and the alleged school. In this case, the school is Buxton University, supposedly in London although the postmark is from Portugal. But much like Buxton's mythical unicorn mascot, 6 News couldn't find any solid facts about the university.
Not only is it illegal and fraudulent to pass off a diploma mill degree as real, UT Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Bob Levy says they're frustrating to hard working students and can tarnish the images of real, accredited online education programs.
"The University of Phoenix, Nova and Walden, they're perfectly good institutions. They're accredited," Levy says.
The FBI says there are as many as 2,500 schools that have been deemed diploma mills. Officials say that several years ago, there were three or four mills operating out of Tennessee.
"One of the interesting things about degree mills, like other scams, they can't stand daylight. If somebody says, oh look there's so and so, they fold up," Levy says.
Remember even though a school is unaccredited doesn't make it a diploma mill. Some truck driving schools, massage therapy schools and even some computer schools choose not to be accredited but still hold classes, teach students and hold them accountable for learning.
The Tennessee Legislature passed a measure that became law in July 2004 year making diploma mill degrees illegal. But some people say the law is all bark and no bite.
Unlike several states, Tennessee doesn't have a specific group investigating diploma mills. The Higher Education Commission handles schools that try to mislead students about their degrees but not institutions trying to solicit fast degrees for money.
The issue of forming an investigative body for Tennessee was recently brought to the state legislature but experts say the problem isn't big enough to bring changes.