Diploma mills prey on those seeking to better themselves

By Holly Brantley - email

MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, MO (KFVS) – More and more people are discovering they can't get ahead without a high school diploma or a GED. So, many are turning to websites to take the test and end up getting scammed in the process.

Educators say they believe there's a reason why this is happening now.

"It's an economic issue," said Dr. Martha Black of the Susanna Wesley Foundation in Mississippi County.

The foundation is home to an accredited GED program in East Prairie.  Black says in Mississippi County, 43 percent of the work force doesn't carry a high school diploma.  However a growing number of that group of individuals have realized getting ahead in a competitive job market means a better education, so they turn to GED's. Diploma mills have zeroed in on this dilemma, and they're trying to make a quick buck by offering you a quick fix.

"I'd be upset," said Matthew Diamond.

Matthew Diamond says for him a GED is a must.

"I want a better paying job," he said.

He's taking GED classes through the Susanna Wesley Foundation.

"Everybody said I couldn't get a job without a GED. High School didn't work out for me."

At 18, Matthew also found himself laid off.

Educators say Matthew represents one of many in southeast Missouri, down on their luck and looking for better options.

Unfortunately that's also a formula that makes them easy prey for GED scams.

"It happens so easily," said Dr. Black. "To think you have to have this test and you might fail is scary so you order it on the internet thinking it's a good idea when it's not. We don't think students are really out to deceive anybody it's just too easy. Some of the scams can cost up to $400."

"It seems too easy," said Janet Witter.

Witter is a manager for the WIRED Initiative and wants to make accredited GED options available.  She wants to help students, businesses, and educators spot fake programs.  She says they're seeing them far too often in the southeast Missouri.

"Businesses need to know the fakes are out there," said Witter. "Students need to read the fine print."

While the certificate might look real, it has to say 'Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.'

Contact the Better Business Bureau if you think you've been scammed.

The Department of Education's website tracks known Diploma Mills: http://ed.gov/students/prep/college/diplomamills/index.html

Here is additional information from Janet Witter with the WIRED Initiative.

  • WIRED has funded 3 billboards in the region encouraging people to work on their GEDs. It also gives them succinct information on how to find the nearest GED site for them. We've worked with United Way to add it to their list of resources in the 211 system. All they need to do is dial 211 and provide their county.
  • Obtaining a GED should not cost more than $40, and this is for registration and testing fees. Martha will explain this more, and I believe is planning to prepare a list of guidelines for you.
  • If a GED exam is not accredited by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (or another state), then it's not legit.
  • In addition to the people being cheated out of their money for a bogus diploma, businesses need to be aware that these certificates are not real and do not meet their requirements if the business requires a HS diploma for hire.
  • There are several diploma mills out there, and we have reviews online that dispel their worth. Here's an example: http://www.merchantcircle.com/business/Cornerstone.Christian.Correspondence.School.912-832-3834/review/list Basically, their fine print says to check with the college and/or business with which you tend to apply prior to purchasing to ensure they will accept it. This is how they get by with it, I suppose, but no accredited school will or should accept diplomas from places like this. This one is on the Dept of Ed's diploma mill list, and we know several people in the region have fallen victim to it and others like it.

Copyright 2010 KFVS. All rights reserved.