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How Can You Tell If That Degree Is Real? Investigate Education Claims Thoroughly!

Education verification may only rarely reveal fraud, but it used to be a reasonably quick process by comparison with more recent developments. Reaching out to a fully accredited, brick-and-mortar higher education institution was the norm. Additionally, they typically retained long-term records of relevant candidate details, such as: 

  • Did this student attend your institution?
  • Did they attend for the time they claim they attended (what are the recorded dates of enrollment)?
  • Did the student obtain a degree, and was that degree the same one they claim on their resumes?
  • Did the student attain the claimed Grade Point Average (GPA), or have they changed that number to appear more competitive?

While it is true that sometimes this process requires paperwork and some snail-mail inquiries, the fact remains that brick-and-mortar education institutions tend to have an extended life and an established reputation. The chance that the school is still in business, even a decade or more after completing a degree, is quite high compared to their digital peers.

Online colleges have exploded in popularity. Some online colleges are accredited and offer programs in a format that makes it easy for people to attend from all over the world. These schools also tend to be easier to contact for education verification. However, with names that sound just as "real" as these functional online colleges, there are a variety of businesses that are less reputable and more likely to profit off of students without giving them quality education in return. This can range from a program that charges exorbitant prices but offers very little by way of quality instructors and research-driven teaching practices, to actual "diploma mills," which openly claim to give students a shortcut to a full degree without doing industry-standard levels of work. 

Online education

Verifying an Online College

1. Confirm That the School Is Real

When your applicants claim to have a degree from an online college, the first step is to confirm that the school exists or did exist at the time of the claimed degree. For-profit online colleges can abruptly shut down, which means that there may be no records office at all that can confirm your student's attendance (a huge red flag to begin with).

2. Survey a College's Reputation

Once you know the school exists, consider its online reputation. Does it have any of the markers of a degree mill or diploma mills, such as offering diplomas in exchange for a curriculum primarily based on prior experience or little classwork? Does it have (or did it have) an accreditation that connects it to the U.S. Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation? Other red flags to watch out for include:

  • Quick processing of degrees, such as delivery in 30 days.
  • lump-sum, one-time fees that complete one's education.

Neither of these qualifies as a replacement for higher education.

3. Determine Authenticity

Assuming you've verified that this program is not a diploma mill and did exist at the right time, you can begin the next step. This one is probably the most familiar for education verification: determining whether the applicant has told the truth about his or her education. It can be helpful to solicit a scanned document from the student that demonstrates what they claim to be accurate, such as a diploma, an official transcript, or another official record, but even receiving that is less helpful than finding a contact at the source.

Begin with contacts at the online college itself; there should be an admissions department that retains records of this kind and can help you. If you get the opportunity to work with a reasonably cooperative and helpful department, you may receive a confirmation email within hours or days, but if no one responds to phone calls or emails, this could be harder to verify.

One major thing to look for is whether the school arranged for its "incomplete" students to re-enroll in another institution when it went out of business. This kind of announcement might be visible online through old news stories, and contacting that company, the new institution to which many students transferred, may lead you to some reputable records.

Job applicant having an interview

Education Is Just the Beginning When Reviewing Candidates

Fundamentally, the challenges of education verification of online colleges are that there are two directions of the confirmation:

  1. Verifying that the student is telling the truth and not making their degree seem better or more impressive than it really was.
  2. Proving that the institution used the level of rigor and educational strength that would make the education an asset to your potential employee, should you hire them.

Are you looking for help navigating the world of education verification about online colleges? CNet Technologies keeps track of the latest in background employment screenings. While CNet is not a substitute for an attorney, we keep our finger on the pulse of the education and hiring practices so that we can give you information as ethically and efficiently as possible!

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