A new bill currently before the Missouri Legislature, SB182, introduced by Senator Matt Bartle (R-Jackson County), would, according to a press release from the Missouri Department of Higher Education, "prohibit the use of false or misleading documents to obtain employment or a college admission in Missouri."
"How would you like to learn that your kid's teacher didn't graduate from college? Or that your doctor has a bogus medical degree?," Bartle said in a press release. "The easy availability of phony documentation over the internet makes these very real dangers. This bill makes it a crime to apply for jobs or college admission with false documentation."
Reports of misleading or outright false documentation have risen over the last decade, due in part to the spread of the internet (where diploma mills are based) and the availability of technology like high-quality scanners and computer applications like Photoshop. The situation is to the point where this clandestine industry is valued in the billions of dollars per year, with approximately one million customers every year.
Diploma mills fall into two categories. Some offer token classes and award attendance with a diploma, while others just sell the degree outright.
Bridgette Jenkins, a teaching assistant at the Multicultural Relations Center, said, "I think honorary doctorates are a crime ... I do think it's getting very serious and if it's a crime as long as there's enforcement of whatever the penalty is, that would be really helpful. And I think the enforcement ought to be more severe when the forgery is tied to something that could really hurt people. I figure people can fake being a nurse or a doctor or even a social worker or psychologist and really cause problems. If they damage you emotionally, that will be with you forever."
"I think it's crazy," said Shanika Lockhart, senior, accounting. "I think [the diploma mill applicants] should do the work. They should sit in classrooms and listen to monotone professors and put in all the work that everyone else does."
In a press release by the Missouri Department for Higher Education from November, 2008, Leroy Wade, assistant commissioner of higher education, said "Missouri has not kept pace with other states in moving to restrict the use of diploma mill degrees. Without changes to Missouri law, people with fraudulent degrees could obtain employment here at all levels of government or industry. We don't want to become a haven for these shady operations and people who seek to use their degrees."
Both sorts may offer equally-questionable letters of recommendation and transcripts, and may use "life experience" as a basis for their awards. As a rule, they are not accredited by reputable organizations.
Diploma mills are not to be confused with legitimate distance-learning schools, like Phoenix University, or accredited degree-completion schools.
Reactions to the proposed bill were indirect but strong, primarily expressing anger about the existence of diploma mills, and their patrons.
When asked for her opinion of the degree mills, Bridget Member-Meneh, business administration, replied, "Are you kidding me? That should not be allowed at all. That's not right. What about those who went to school and did things the right way? Both the companies that make these and [the people] that accept the fake degrees should be heavily fined."
Copyright 2008 The Current