Business Insider - Fake Online Degrees Exist

Discussion in 'Accreditation Discussions (RA, DETC, state approva' started by Vonnegut, Apr 26, 2020.

  1. Vonnegut

    Vonnegut Active Member

    Thankfully, we have another revolutionary article from Business Insider. That being said, even if they're mostly filler, they do spread good info at times.


    While it's an older online post, was recently updated by SI News, which has been surprisingly having a few decent articles as of late.
  2. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Captain Renault: I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

    But, like always, they focus on the wrong end. It's not a problem with supply, but instead with demand. If buying a fake degree and passing it off as real (or just lying about a degree you don't have) didn't work so well, these companies would not exist.

    You could shut down every diploma mill everywhere on Earth and 6 months later this billion-dollar business would be thriving again. You have to get at the demand.
  3. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    Agreed, Rich. I also want to see companies doing a much better job of blocking fake degree holders out, and dropping the hammer on those who get discovered after hire no matter how long after hire the lie is exposed.
  4. JoshD

    JoshD Active Member

    I absolutely agree that human resources departments should do a better job of credential checking. After being admitted, and submitting my deposit, to Fuqua I was required to undergo a re-verification process through Re Vera Services LLC to make certain what I had stated on my application was true and that all credentials earned were actually earned, etc. Surely there is a similar service for large employers to utilize.
  5. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    This would be a good one:
    JoshD likes this.
  6. JoshD

    JoshD Active Member

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  7. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    Congratulations, you just selected a service that will not verify NA degrees. Observe as the baby tumbles forth in the same manner as the water in which it was bathed.

    While I appreciate that everyone thinks that HR needs to "do better" the fact of the matter is, fake degrees aren't really enough of a problem to justify too much expense.

    I spend my days closing job requisitions. That is the top metric against which I am measured. If I hire a highly qualified engineer, that's a win. That qualification is based on said engineer's years of experience and not their degree unless we're hiring an entry level professional. While it's cutely naive to think that a fake degree should warrant termination 100% of the time, that's a terrible way to do business. Is the person unethical? Most of the time, yes. Should we want to do business with a person who would lie about a degree? No. However, particularly in some fields, it would be very costly to the company to fire someone in certain positions on the spot. Engineers and software developers are right up there. Do we fire them? Yes. But, to be frank, anything this side of a felony is a meeting to discuss rather than an absolute.

    We hire outside vendors for background checks. Outside of a teeny tiny company, the idea of having a person from HR manually verify degrees is impractical. Sending them a link so they can fill out a form and initiate the process? That's efficient. We hire, when not in the midst of an epidemic, between 200 and 400 people every month. I have a support staff of 4. And this is a Fortune 100 company. These vendors often do verify degrees by contacting the school. Unfortunately, they are bad at it. They don't verify accreditation. They also don't understand that some schools have decentralized registrars. So if you have two degrees from Harvard or Cornell, for example, they'll return false negatives because the registrar managing your undergrad records can't verify your graduate degree because they are held by another registrar at the same university but within a different college.

    Could we throw more money at it and make it better? Yes. The problem is, would you like to know how many "fake" degrees I've encountered in the 13+ years I've worked at my present company? Ten or fewer. We see these things because we're out looking for them. In the real world, it happens but not often enough to reinvent the wheel.

    I have seen top tier, and very expensive and well reputed, services return a false negative because they were unable to verify a degree from Yale that was absolutely 100% legitimate while verifying a degree from a school that exists only in a PO Box. These are quick processes. They are not exhaustive. You don't get an investigator looking into every case. If we used the Clearinghouse, it would only cover RA degrees. That's it. I have a double digit percentage of employees with some degree somewhere from an NA school. Most of them are associates degrees from small business colleges and trade schools that have closed long ago.

    So, tell me arbiters of HR, what should we prioritize? Ferreting out the fewer than 10 over a 13 year span? Or screw over the 300+?

    It's a business, folks. ROI is key. Today, alas, the investment to improve is very high and the return so negligible that if I presented it to our CFO he'd send me to get checked out as he would surely think I had endured a head injury.
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  8. LearningAddict

    LearningAddict Well-Known Member

    LOL! Yeah, that's something I observed years ago. I never knew whether it was a matter of them refusing to verify NA schools or NA schools simply not participating/being invited to participate. But, last I checked, they verified for less than 4,000 schools so there are plenty RA schools that wouldn't show up in their database either.
  9. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    There are estimates that more than a million people make public claims about their degrees that are not true. I suspect it is a very high number.

    If you're bored, try taking some of the more common diploma mill names and search for them, either on Google or on LinkedIn. You will be rewarded.

    I carry the highest certification in HR. The competency model on which it is based does not include verifying claimed credentials. It was never addressed in preparing for the certification exam, and the subject did not come up on the exam.

    My dissertation research at Union put this issue squarely on the HR profession.

    Is it a problem not worth solving? Oh, there are many opinions on that score. But if it is something to be solved, it will not be through shutting down diploma mill operators.

    But how many times have we seen people get caught with fake degree claims and still keep their jobs?

    Finally, I disagree that the cost would be high. Neuhaus says that he rarely sees cases of it, so that implies he has an ability to ferret out such instances. If so, that can be taught to others in the course of their professional development. He says the ROI isn't worth it. Fine. I say it is.
  10. Vonnegut

    Vonnegut Active Member

    Neuhaus, that is an excellent post. While I am not in HR, I've been a hiring manager or hiring committees for my areas of responsibility, throughout most of my career. While admittedly, it was only in the latter portion of my career that I really started to understand accreditation... I still can't recall encountering a fake degree. Absolutely support your argument too, that a good portion of the time, I'm not even really looking at the individual degree. I am more often focusing on their roles, responsibilities, career progression, and experience. Although I certainly would investigate anything that looks suspicious. For higher level positions though, at many of the organizations I've worked for, the school one went to really mattered. As an example, an MBA from a regionally accredited school, often didn't open doors beyond mid-level positions, they simply weren't even considered if they weren't from a top tier school.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2020
  11. Vonnegut

    Vonnegut Active Member

    If only there was the possibility of, with supporting infrastructure, of an automated database that was independently operated and vetted, with which people could remotely access and seek verification... Actually wonder though, if the liability risks would be too high for an independent business to attempt to automate their own process internally. Have no doubt the larger companies would be fine or even be able to openly, as many more or less do, state that they don't accept degrees from some schools. It's the smaller or mid-sized operations which could have immense liability for accidentally falsely determining a school was not reputable or a program was not sufficient.
  12. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    I recommend this for everyone. But stop after page 2 or 3, after that you start to get annoyed at some of the positions these folks hold. The one that got me was a CTO for a major US city who had his bachelors, Masters and PhD all from Almeda

    Many times.

    Let me clarify this point a bit...

    Is it possible to create a service that adequately provides this level of scrutiny? It is. There are a few problems with it, however...

    1. It wouldn't work as a standalone service. Degree verification today is generally done as part of a larger background check provider. Piecing the work out slows the hiring process. So one stop shops are very useful and offer a strong value proposition. It would be an uphill battle to convince anyone that you need to send out aspects of the background check to different companies. I would also be very concerned that you might end up with a WES type bias where a legitimately awarded degree might be deemed inferior by them. Let's take RA/NA out of the mix for a second. Such a company could be wholly reliable for US degrees but arbitrarily decide that degrees from anywhere in Liberia are invalid under all circumstances. Let's not forget, the esteemed WES which not only feels one of my Masters degrees is simply not up to the standards of any Canadian degree granting institution also deemed one of your doctorates to be equivalent to a Masters degree. There is plenty that WES does well. But there are key areas where they don't. This is an area where conventional wisdom is VERY difficult to overcome once it becomes established. So there is a danger, a set of unintended consequences in trying to make the patchwork system more uniform.
    Neuhaus also spends an appreciable part of his free time on a forum discussing this topic, trolling LinkedIn for resume bombs, scouring the internet for degree programs he will never enroll in just to "see what's out there" and countless other things that, around here, seem normal but to the real world would not. Neuhaus instinctively googles ANY school with a name that he doesn't recognize and will chase down its history by following one internet rabbit hole after another just because he finds it fascinating.

    I never said people could not be taught. I said that people are disinclined to look for that level of detail.

    By what metric? So that you can have a better and more ethical workplace? That's fine, I guess. But the amount of investment into ethics is severely limited in the corporate world.

    Any investment into a hiring system, or a change thereof, needs to show a noticeable improvement to the bottom line. The bottom line for HR is not as hazy as it once was. We have metrics. Lots of them. Requisition closure rate. Time to close. These are serious and many HR professionals have lost their jobs because they weren't met. To show ROI you can't just say "Trust me, it's worth it." Well, I can't. You can, you're a consultant and if I took away your ability to sell vague promises you might be without a livelihood (oh come on, Rich, this isn't a final debate for our souls have a little fun with it. This is what you get for referring to me in the third person).

    When examining the ROI a few questions need to be asked:

    1. Does the problem exist? Yes.
    2. How widespread is the problem? It's out there, but it's in the minority of cases.
    3. How does the problem impact the bottom line? Here's the crappy part. Generally, it doesn't. If you hire an engineer with a fake PhD they might otherwise be fully competent engineers. They might be better than competent. They might be highly desirable. Even if it blows up, what's next? You know the routine, "the job doesn't even require a PhD so who cares?" The cases we see blow up have one major thing in common; they are on individuals who have enough public view for this to even matter. If my company's CEO got busted with a fake PhD (his is real, thanks) it would be big news. If some random mid-level engineer got busted for the same? No one cares. Should they? Probably. Because mid-level engineers can eventually become CEOs, if for no other reason. But all that people care about for that engineer is that they are engineering things that make the company lots of money.

    Because that's the long and short of it. People don't view HR as the gatekeepers. They view us as the people who have an imperative to, among other things, administer benefits, tend to the discipline and reward of employees and fill job vacancies.

    What HR brings to the process of filling vacancies is not expertise in degrees. It's process design and implementation. We create a process that is uniform for all employees so that everyone goes through, more or less, the same process. No showing up on Monday and the boss hired his nephew without other eyes on the decision. You fill out the same application. Which is reviewed by the same screener. Which is referred to the same HR person (per department). Which is reviewed in coordination with the hiring manager. Which results in a phone interview. which results in an in person interview. Which results in a standardized offer letter being prepared. Which results in an offer being made according to a set process. Which results in an acceptance. which results in a bunch of backend processing to get that person added to all relevant systems. Which results in an ID badge on their first day. Which results in an orientation. which results in the person formally being turned over to their manager and no longer the responsibility of HR.

    It's the same for everyone. That's what HR does. HR is department agnostic. We can hire lawyers and engineers and nurses and CEOs and factory workers and security guards and film directors. We don't need to know a ton about those roles or how to measure a candidate against the expectations. That's the hiring manager's job. Our job is to make sure they all go through the same fair and uniform process.

    So a major issue with the idea of "HR needs to do better" is that there exist many nuances. HR can set a policy that says RA or the highway. But what do you do when a hiring manager gets it in his/her head that the graduates of a specific NA program are tops? It happens.

    Fake degrees are a problem. They pale in comparison, however, to claimed degrees from legitimate schools that were never awarded. I've seen 10 fake degrees (there or there abouts). Some people legitimately don't understand accreditation and think they have a real credential. The degree liars, on the other hand, are often caught with just a casual review. They say they have a Masters from Virginia Tech but VT has no record. Then you have the ones who play up similar sounding schools. We had a candidate come through and everyone was impressed with his degree from Columbia. He had one. From Columbia college. He did nothing to discourage the confusion.

    The current system, at best, tackles the biggest of the above problems; you say you have a bachelors from Stanford but you don't. The other things are not only rarely occurring in the grand scheme of a reasonably busy HR shop but they;re also the sort that a manager is most likely to shrug and say "so?"

    Sporting a degree from Almeda on your LinkedIn proves nothing. You could be ignorant but not malicious. As long as your work is good, few people are going to raise a fuss. And, with so many managers not understanding accreditation, they often take it as you simply being an elitist because they went through a "non-traditional" program.

    Go to work. Look around your office. Pick an employee who is a good employee. Not a kiss ass. Just a genuinely nice person who does their work well. Now pretend you found out that they have a diploma mill certificate on their resume. Think for a second as to how you would present this, to whom and what risks you take upon your own professional reputation in doing so. Now think about how much effort that would likely be, how long an investigation might take and what the potential outcomes are. Did your company make money from this process? Is your company safer as a result of it? Are your products better? Profit margins wider? No. You have the moral high ground. And that isn't enough to get a business to budge. It sickens me. Some worse than others. There's a difference between an admin who sincerely believed that their years of service earned them that associates degree from Almeda or the logistics manager with a bachelors from LBU who never thought of his degree as anything other than his degree and the person who claims to have graduated from Harvard when they've never even been to Boston. And it speaks to their character. It speaks to their integrity. But, for better or worse, it doesn't speak to how well or how much they produce. And it might not be anywhere near enough to cause their allies to turn on them.
  13. Neuhaus

    Neuhaus Well-Known Member

    As an aside, it would be an interesting study to send a survey to hiring managers asking which degree from an otherwise qualified candidate would raise the most flags.

    Give them three choices and see how the names play like Atlantic International, Louisiana Baptist University or American InterContinental University.

    Then let's ask them what their response would be if their top employee's college degree turned out to be from a school that lacked accreditation. Then same question as to if they lied about having earned a degree from a school they attended but from which they didn't graduate. It would be interesting but I hypothesize that the results might depress us.
  14. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Again, we disagree. Fine.
  15. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Then you might want to read my Union thesis. I did something very similar, but with members of SHRM local chapters.
  16. Vonnegut

    Vonnegut Active Member

    That actually sounds like a thesis I'd be interested in reading. Might have to pull it up, I'm fairly curious with the analysis.
  17. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I sent you a link to it.
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