28 February 2011

Although times are changing, there is still a considerable amount of prejudice concerning degrees that are earned through online study thanks to diploma mills (also called degree mills). The problem is that many people and organisations believe that studying online is easy and that in effect, the student is basically buying their degree. Anyone who has studied online with the University of Liverpool or indeed any reputable and recognised university knows that this is simply not true.

Diploma Mills

Diploma Mills are companies that in exchange for a credit card number will provide you with a nice shiny new degree. For a bit extra you can graduate with honours. They often provide a “two for one” special offer to provide you with a Masters Degree and if you’re feeling extra flush this month, even more cash can earn you a PhD.

Diploma mills are different from companies offering “novelty” degrees. Those companies create what appears to be an authentic degree that is only to be used for novelty purposes. The fact that the piece of paper is in many cases indistinguishable from the real thing and that there is no way anyone is going to pay hundreds of dollars for novelty purposes, and you get another big problem.

That said, there is a clear difference between the two. One is clearly a fake degree that pretends to be awarded by a legitimate university. The other (diploma mill) is generally considered to be a fake university issuing a degree in its own name. I say generally because the rules are often a bit blurred about which companies may call themselves a university and in many places it is not illegal to issue degrees in the name of an unregulated university - even though the degree is literally not worth the paper it is written on. Many diploma mills claim to be accredited by various groups of online universities which can also cause confusion. I have even seen an online university state openly that its degrees are not recognised!

Diploma mills also offer some advanced services such as transcripts (more money for higher grades as you’d expect) and even a phone number that potential employers can call and “verify” the degree. Now, there are many universities in the world that I don’t know about and I suspect the same is true for most employers. Picking out the obvious fakes is easy but diploma mills are getting smarter…

So in summary, when you tell someone you studied online, many immediately think “diploma mill” and that you paid for an otherwise empty degree. But as we shall see, this is far from the truth!

Real Online Degrees

It is possible to study online and earn a degree that is considered just as difficult (if not more so) than studying on campus. Two universities of note are Walden University and the University of Liverpool (whose online offerings are available at www.ohecampus.com). Both universities are fully accredited by recognised government agencies and both only use fully qualified and experienced staff to design, write and teach their programmes.

As some of you may know I graduated from one of Liverpool’s online masters programmes and I can attest to the work load and course content. It is certainly intense, has good depth and requires continual assessment which is far harder than simply cramming for an exam.

So far no one has questioned the authenticity of my masters degree, including the Hong Kong Polytechnic University where I am currently studying for a PhD. The reason for this is really quite simple; the University of Liverpool is a well known and highly regarded UK university. A degree from the University of Liverpool stands on its own, and clearly such a university would not award degrees that have not been properly earned.

This is true for any online course or programme - the value is in the university that awards your degree rather than the specific content. Even if the content is exceptional, few people will consider it a valid degree if it does not come from a recognised university.

Summing it up

There are many benefits to studying online. It is convenient, fits well into most lifestyles, doesn’t require fixed schedules, multi-cultural study environment and much more. However all these benefits are meaningless unless the degree is accredited - don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Before you sign up for a programme, check to see who is offering it and who actually awards the degree.

If you ensure that your course is accredited and the university is well known, you pretty much can’t go wrong. If you’re not sure if the course or programme you’re interested in is accredited, get in touch via the contact page and I’ll look into it for you.

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