me old-fashioned, but I've always equated a university degree
with four, maybe five years of grueling course work, waking
up at six AM on a Saturday morning to study, and, of course,
was I wrong.
least according to a suspect email floating around in cyberspace.
a prosperous future, money earning power, and the admiration
of all," it says. "Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited
universities based on your present knowledge and life experience
. . . bachelors, masters, MBA, and doctorate diplomas available
in the field of your choice. No one is turned down . . . CALL
NOW . . . "
read the next sentence carefully, because with next semester
rapidly approaching, this is the kicker:
required tests, classes, books, or interviews."
a slider's dream come true.
academia's answer to the seedless watermelonthe fruity
goodness without the pesky inconvenience of seed spitting
after every bite.
call the toll-free number.
days later, Harrington University's Eric Star calls me at
home. Harrington is a "correspondence school," he says, based
in London. It's a diploma mill.
general idea of a diploma mill is for people who are skilled,
but didn't go to a university, or did go to a university but
now can't use their degrees," Eric says.
a non-accredited school, so the degree is not for license,
or for transfer of credits. But for everything elseincluding
job applications, he assures methis degree is legit.
you are a qualified professional in your field, you can get
a degree in ten business days," he says. "We'll take your
word about your qualifications. It remains between us how
you received your degree."
what type of degree are you interested in?" Eric asks.
say a Bachelor of Science in computer science. Immediately I
feel like an underachiever. I could have had a Ph.D.
me about your background in computers," Eric says.
tell him I graduated from high school, went to a junior college
for a year, but didn't graduate.
asks me about my college classes, and I tell him I took general
education. No physics, no calculus, no information science.
Hell, I don't even throw him a Typing 101 class. Apparently,
that doesn't matter at Harrington.
sounds like you have the life experience necessary for a degree
in computer science," Star says.
only $1,460, a Harrington U. diploma will be mine.
diploma itself looks like UCLA's, he says, and will boast
a GPA of my choice. "You can graduate with highest honors,
if you wish, or a more modest GPA . . . whatever you feel
will be more believable, " says Star. Custom-made transcripts,
professor letters of recommendation, and a wallet-size, laminated
diploma are all included. And if I act within twenty-four
hours, I will qualify for a "discount scholarship," lowering
the price by five hundred bucks. If I can throw in a few other
diploma hopefuls, everyone gets a certificate for less than
six hundred dollars a person.
never heard of Harringtonwhat do I tell prospective
employers about my alma mater?
them it's a correspondence school, like the hundreds of other
correspondence schools scattered throughout the US and the
UK. Our strength is in our anonymity."
Quasiat best. Shady? You betcha.
then, there's always the chance that an employer will discover
your degree is a phony and that you've never touched a keyboard
in your life.
think the person you are hiring is very qualified, overqualified
even, and the danger is they've never taken any of those classes,
nor will they be able to do the work," says Caresse Sakagawa,
a marketing associate in charge of hiring at a San Francisco
Bay-area manufacturing company.
honesty factor plays a role here, too.
is lying," Sakagawa continues. "If I hired someone, and I
found out their diploma and their transcripts were fake, they
would be terminated immediately. No matter if they were my
best employee, they would be fired on the spot."
your prestigious diploma isn't lost in the mail, that is.
get the picture, dear readers. There may be a few loopholes
in the old 'no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch' adage, but a Ph.D.
in ten days for a grand? It may save Mom and Dad plenty-o-bucks
compared to four years at a private university, but get ready
to do some explaining when the credit card bill arrives in
degree-mill scams are almost as old as the walls of academia
themselves. They've been around for centuries. So long as
there are sliders and scam artists, diploma scams will continue
to thriveand blur the lines of legitimate distance learning.
Non-accredited religious schools in several states only increase
the gray area.
hard to legally disseminate between legitimate institutions
and scam operations, but that doesn't mean vigilant defenders
of truth will stop trying.
the popularity of phony schools dropped in the 1980's, as
a result of the aptly-named "DipScam" task force of the FBI.
DipScam investigated non-accredited schools in the US and
abroad, sometimes with help from foreign agencies like Scotland
Yard. They sent the founders of Johann Keppler School of Medicine
and the United American Medical College to prison, shutting
down the schools in the process. They also sucessfully shuttered
other fake schools, including Southern California University,
the University of England at Oxford, and Lafayette University.
when DipScam closed it's doors in the early ninetiesand
with the advent of overnight delivery services, cheap laser
printers, color copiers and scanners (not to mention the Internet)phony
diploma mills are once again making a comeback.
toll-free numbersnow phony diploma advertising is only
a spam-message away. So are "lost diploma replacement services,"
companies that will replace one's lost law degree from Harvardfor
a small fee.
fact, Degree.net (www.degree.net), an Internet resource for
distance learning, warns about spam emails from the University
of San Mortiz, University of Palmers Green, and, you guessed
it, Harrington University. According to Degree.net, Diploma
hunters wire the cash via Western Union and never hear from
the "universities" again.
call my friend Eric back at the number he gave me. I'm greeted
by a pre-recorded, Madonna-esque British accent.
you for calling the university degree program," she says,
"Even though our offices are overseas, calls will be returned
the following day."
I read something online about diploma scams connected with
Harrington," I say.
following-day response from Eric.
the course of the week, I leave several messages for Eric.
does not return my calls.
call the international operator to find a phone listing for
the London-based school.
sorry, there is no listing for Harrington University," she
sometimes it pays to do your homework.