Piggy-backing on my last post about fraudulent documents (“Don’t Try This…”), I saw this article on degree mills and private institutions.
First, a comment on private universities. Canada seems to have this “thing” against private universities. Canadian media and educational culture view private institutions with a skeptical eye. This is much different than in the United States, where many of the top universities are private (Harvard, Yale,etc.). There are numerous high quality private colleges and universities in Canada, so the CBC headline is misleading and betrays this media bias. [Full disclosure: I work at what I think is the highest quality private university in Canada. See the most recent Macleans report that I use to support this claim.]
That caveat aside, private degree mills are a growing problem. Fraud is a growing problem. Here in BC, the BC Registrars Association provided a Fraud Protection Symposium a number of months ago that was a sell-out. A simple search of the internet this morning showed me that the cheapest Trinity Western University degree I could buy from a degree mill was $250. But the average price was around $500. Yes, there were enough degree mills selling TWU degrees that I could average the price. Several of the web sites were sophisticated enough to give lengthy definitions of accreditation and also to have two “accreditation bodies” backing them up. Of course, if you scratch very deep, you’ll quickly find the accreditation bodies are just links created by the same fraudster that created the degree mill university. What tipped me off? The price. The time (the longest was 15 days). The “academic” work (send us your name, address and a cheque). I saw a number of examples of our degrees on these sites, too. They look not bad. Not exactly right, but enough to fool someone who wasn’t looking for fraud.
Most people are honest. Most people see through these degree mills. And most degree mills say something like, “These degrees are for novelty purposes only.” As I understand the Ontario situation, they are looking for better legislation to protect the public from schools that do not operate with the appropriate legal charter, and the schools that defraud well-intentioned students and employers because they do not provide the accredited training, skills or whatever they say they provide.
I say yes, protect consumers, for sure. I also wonder why consumers get taken in by these degree mills. What do they offer? Convenience? Cheap tuition? Whatever it is, those of us that offer real, quality education need to keep an eye on this because it tells us there are students out there who we’re not reaching for some reason. We need to pay attention to convenience and costs, and do them justice. We need to continue to educate the public on the value of a costly education, and we need to ensure that the value is there.