While online colleges have revolutionized higher education, they have unintentionally spawned a black market for college degrees. There are online “colleges” out there that are nothing more than degree mills. They will give any degree of any level to its “students”, as long as they can afford the price tag. These degree mills legally get away with this by calling their degrees “life experience” degrees. They offer you credits based on your personal and career experience. While the concept itself of life experience credits is legitimate, these fake colleges are abusing the concept to sell a degree to anyone for the right price.
As mentioned above, a life experience degree is earned through the college assessing your resume and issuing you college credits based on your experience. While most online colleges who use this format are a scam, there are a handful of accredited universities who issue credits in this manner.
The big difference is the accredited universities do it for students who already have a degree and are looking to earn another in a different field. Instead of making these students re-take a bunch of general education classes, they instead offer them a chance to take a competency exam to earn life experience credits. Also, an entire degree cannot be earned through life experience credits at these legitimate universities. It only applies to general education and elective credits. Credits within the major, especially upper-division courses, must be taken through a formal class.
The biggest indicator that a college is a scam is if you can earn an entire degree through life experience. Any “college” offering this is a company using psychological sales tactics to make a profit. These companies know how valuable a college degree has become in the marketplace. They see the amount of people with years of work experience going back to school online. They also see that these people are motivated by the current climate of job insecurity and have devised a scheme to prey on these insecurities. People in sales and marketing know that people love to feel valued for what they know, and they love a product or service that helps them cut corners without compromising their values. These companies have taken this market research and used it to create degree mills.
Colleges who offer full degrees through life experience credits have created the perfect product for their target market. Their strategy, from a branding perspective, is quite genius. These companies are directly exchanging degree for payment. The value is purely in the piece of paper and what that piece of paper says. The better companies have even partnered with fake accreditation agencies to make the operation seem more official. These companies realized that they had a goldmine of a market, but they needed to present the product in a way that didn’t compromise their customer’s values.
These companies brand themselves as colleges because they realize there is a loophole the size of a crater when it comes to the laws regarding online colleges. In theory, anyone reading this could start an online college tomorrow. Let’s use gardening as an example. Say you want to open an online gardening school. You tell your students to all buy the same selection of gardening books. You then have them write a paper on what they got out of the book, and you assign them a grade. Once they do this for the number of classes, you decide a degree is worth they get the degree in gardening. It is that simple to start an online college, and the best part is you didn’t break the law. The only catches are never to claim you are accredited by a legitimate accreditation agency and never claim affiliation with a legitimate university.
You can also tell if a specific college is a scam by a quick Google search. It is only a matter of time before an honest person seeking a real degree gets hoodwinked, and when that happens word spreads like wildfire through the digital grapevine. The legitimacy of a brick and mortar college can be vouched for by a simple visit to the campus. With online colleges, that “visit” is researching their reputation.
Absolutely not. If life experience credits are tied to a competency exam and offered by a college that also has a brick and mortar campus, then they offer a legitimate way for students to save time and money. You just need to use caution and have realistic expectations. Don’t seek a college degree if you are looking to take shortcuts. That is exactly the type of people these degree mills prey on. There is no such thing as a legitimate college degree where you don’t have take classes under the guidance of a professor.
What you need to stay away from is the full lifestyle experience degree. When you get one of these degrees, the only person you actually fool is yourself. When these degree mills first spawned it was easy to trick some employers into thinking it was from a legitimate university, but employers have caught on to the scheme. Today’s job market is also saturated with college graduates. Gone are the days when a college degree was a ticket to a well-paying career. Employers assume you went to school, so what they care about is what school you went to and what skills you have. They’re going to pick the prospect who went to a legitimate university that they’ve actually heard of over a prospect with a life experience degree from an unknown online university. Even if you do manage to get a job with your fake degree, it is only a matter of time before you are fired for not having the skills you should have acquired while earning your degree. You could even face criminal charges if you fake your way into a medical or financial position.