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Does Your Doctor Have a Fake Degree? The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas

There is a major crisis in the world of higher education: the large and growing number of fake universities and fake degrees.

The following is an excerpt from  Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas published by Prometheus Books. Click here for a copy. 

There is a major crisis in the world of higher education: the large and growing number of fake universities and fake degrees.

Many people are either unaware of the situation, don’t know what a huge problem it is, or don’t appreciate how it is affecting them, their institution or employer, and society at large.

Consider, for instance, these five things:

• There are more than 3,300 unrecognized universities, worldwide, many of them outright fakes, selling bachelor’s, master’s, doctorates, law, and medical degrees to anyone willing to pay the price. No nation is immune from the problem.

• One international diploma mill, with offices in Europe and the Middle East and mailing addresses in the United Kingdom, run by Americans, has sold more than 450,000 degrees—bachelor’s, master’s, doctorates, medicine, and law—to clients worldwide, who did nothing more than write a check. Their revenues exceeded US $450,000,000.

• The number of earned PhD degrees in the United States is 40,000 to 45,000 each year. The number of fake PhDs bought each year from diploma mills exceeds 50,000. In other words, more than half of all people claiming a new PhD have a fake degree.

• Fake medical degrees are an urgent problem. It is easy to buy a medical degree from a fake school, or a counterfeit diploma in the name of a real school. Twenty-five years ago, a Congressional committee calculated that there were over 5,000 fake doctors in the United States, and there are many more now. People have died because of these fakes.

• The Government Accountability Office looked for fake degrees among employees of less than 5 percent of federal agencies and found enough to suggest that more than one hundred thousand federal employees have at least one, many of them paid for by taxpayers not to mention resulting higher pay and increased retirement benefits.


It is generally advisable to define the “beast” before going out to attempt to slay it. In the case of degree mills, this turns out to be an elusive task.

Let’s begin with the most basic words: degree and diploma.

A degree is the title one earns from a legitimate school or simply buys from a fake one: Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Business Administration, Doctor of Philosophy, Juris Doctor (law), Doctor of Medicine, and scores of other titles.

A diploma is the certificate—the piece of paper or parchment—that signifies that a degree has been awarded.

Schools award degrees. And then they present the graduate with a diploma, which is, in effect, an announcement, a proclamation of the degree that has been awarded.

Degree mills issue diplomas. Diploma mills sell degrees. We can live with either word, but we have selected “degree mill” as our term of choice since it refers to the entity awarding the degree and not just to the decorative announcement framed and hung on the wall.

Different people define these words differently, depending on their intention. There is far from unanimous agreement on just what a degree mill is.

Almost no one would deny that a “university” operating from a mailbox service that grants the PhD in three days is a degree mill. But what about an institution that operates legally in a state with minimal regulation and requires three months and a thirty-page paper in order to earn its PhD? What about one that requires six months and sixty pages? How about twelve months and one hundred twenty pages? One person’s degree mill may be another’s innovative new-style university. Clearly more definition is needed than just time and work required.

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