They "prove themselves" by achieving state approval. This is an incredibly difficult process (relative to other states) in places like New York, Pennsylvania and NJ. So if there is a school that is on the list of approved schools in New York, it is a bit silly to try to claim it isn't a legitimate school. Take a look at what is required to open a college in New York State compared to opening a religious school in Florida. New York requires you to submit your curriculum. They review it. They send you back concerns to which you must respond. It's a process similar to accreditation (a separate service offered by the NYS Board of Regents). It's rigorous. There's a reason why you don't find many diploma mills operating out of the Empire State. Let me break this next part up a bit: And yet, Oregon felt it necessary to list those institutions on a separate page of their website alongside institutions whose curriculum they have reviewed (for out of state institutions). I'm sure if any of these schools were found to be engaging in diploma mill tactics, they would be removed and the approval of their exempt status would be revoked. Suspect, sure. I definitely arch an eyebrow at a school with a religious exemption. By virtue of that school having an exemption that means it hasn't actually been evaluated by anyone at the state level. It is exempt from the requirements of other schools. Suspect does not mean that it is illegitimate, merely that it makes me wonder. I never said you can trust an unaccredited school because it operates in Oregon. I said that I would generally trust a school AUTHORIZED in Oregon because Oregon has strict authorization standards. Oregon also reviews out of state universities and has approved some of these unaccredited schools to offer programs in Oregon. Again, it's a matter of whether a review of curriculum is being done and if a school is behaving like a normal school should. Do you know what else that would do? That would make it so no new schools can be formed. Every school has to start out as an unaccredited school. You have to operate unaccredited before you can even apply for accreditation. If accreditation = legitimacy then any new school is illegitimate regardless of how rigorous their authorization process is. Does that really sound reasonable to you? Does that really sound fair to either the school or the student? State authorization would be a fine means of determining legitimacy if every state uniformly worked to shut down diploma mills. They do not. Some states lack the legislation. Some states require state approved schools to achieve accreditation within a fixed period of time. Others, like Florida, will allow me to start Neuhaus College of the Bible where we can award Phds tomorrow and forever into the future as long as we file an annual affidavit attesting to our degrees still being religious in nature. Also, those "alternative definitions" you speak of are actually the primary definitions of academic legitimacy. Accreditors require state approval before you can initiate the process. If you feel state approval is so worthless, why is it necessary? I think what is more impractical is tying accreditation to legitimacy. Using your logic, a school operating as an unaccredited college is illegitimate. It's degrees are completely worthless and without merit. If it graduates individuals with a doctorate those individuals are not entitled to use the title of "doctor" all throughout the multi-year process of achieving accreditation. Then, one day, the degrees magically become "legitimate." All accredited colleges are legitimate colleges. But not all legitimate colleges are accredited colleges.