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LinkedIn and Bogus Diplomas: The Type of Transparency That Stings...

I've written in the past about online universities, basically asking whether online degrees are the real deal or diploma mills.  The answer is "it depends".  Here's how I rank your options when it comes to degree programs that have some or all of their classes being delivered in a virtual fashion:

  • Choice #1 - Franchise School (my term for the mcUniversities that are popping up in Suburbia, likeWestern_international_2 Strayer University, maybe a Devry - you attend most of your classes, but it's not affiliated with a four-year program)
  • Choice #2 - Online Program from a school with brand recognition, like a University of Phoenix
  • Choice #10 - Any online program other than that of a 4-year school or the University of Phoenix. Most have directional sounding names that end with something besides a state, maybe a PO Box. "Southwestern Pacific", "International Bailiff Academy" - something like that.

I know a lot of people who have taken the University of Phoenix option, and it seems like they had to work hard as part of the program, so I think that's legit.  There's also this dirty little secret when it comes to any degree program - you get out of it what you put in.  You can learn a lot if you're into it and apply yourself, and all I want to hear about in an interview is what you learned and how you apply it day to day for my company.  Have trouble answering that?  That's a problem.

However - the reason I put any online school other than the University of Phoenix as choice #10 is because there's a lot of bad stuff out there.  Here's another interesting thing.  As schools are identified as being diploma mills, watchdog consumer organizations are using online tools to look for working professionals who carry degrees from the diploma mills.

We'll call this the type of transparency that stings if you made the decision to pay 3K for a degree you could put on your resume.  More from

"We're going to use these questionable alma maters to do a little cross-referencing with LinkedIn, a well-known professional social networking site where people post all the types of information they include on resumes. Hardly scientific, but hey, we didn't tell these folks to put their phony diplomas up there.

Sometimes you'll stumble on someone whom you think should know better -- or maybe that's the point. Amstead University claims 12 graduates on LinkedIn, including a president of a Dallas, Texas-based company, a vice-president of an Atlanta-based company, and a human resources recruiter in Reno, Nevada, whose current job is reviewing resumes.

Then there's Belford University, which appears on as many as 500 resumes in LinkedIn, including a New York-based director of human resources, a CEO in the pharmaceutical industry, and, apparently, to more than one soldier stationed in Iraq who thought a Belford degree was useful.

Clearly there's something more at stake here than the public trust -- national security, for instance. A surprising number of people caught sporting diploma-mill diplomas work in or with important domains like education, the military, and the government, according to this investigation and this list, which documents almost 10,000 people who spent $7.3 million on their bogus credentials. Found sporting degrees on LinkedIn from Williamstown University, along with 25 other people, are an aerospace engineer for a leading defense contractor and an IT "compliance manager" at a pharmaceutical company . Do you want someone who's using a fake degree working on making prescription drugs or designing space defense systems or teaching your kids?"

And so it goes - I'll call it the circle of digital life.  Technology created the ability for these bogus organizations to exist (although I'm sure the International Bailiff Academy at Harvard College existed before the Internet - mail order, right?), and now technology in the form of LinkedIn comes back to bite the bogus grads on the behind.

And your're a HR pro and/or a Recruiter.  Is there any doubt you'd make one of these lists if you "attended" Harvard College and the list was published for your town?

It's a brave new world of transparency out there.  In many ways, that's a good thing.


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