This Viral Story About High School Investigators Reveals a Hidden Problem with College Degrees

April 6th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

A team of high school journalists investigated a new principal's resume, and she resigned within days. Students at the school newspaper Booster Redux at Pittsburgh High School in Kansas conducted a weeks-long investigation, and their findings reveal a hidden scam that's probably more common than you think.

The students looked into Amy Robertson's degrees from Corllins University, where she said her master's and doctorate degrees came from, according to The Washington Post.

Robertson was hired as the head principal on March 6. However, when the students looked into Corllins University, the website reportedly didn't work, and they couldn't find it listed as an accredited college.

“There were some things that just didn’t quite add up,” 17-year-old Connor Balthazor, one of the student journalists, told The Washington Post. Less than a week after the students published their findings Robertson resigned, but she told the Kansas City Star that all three of her degrees are "authenticated by the U.S. government" and the students' "concerns are not based in facts."

People on Twitter were impressed by the students' investigative work:

When ATTN: checked on Thursday, we found a website for a Corllins University, which describes it as a "private university open to the world." The message from the president on the website says that "having the right credentials from an accredited institution is critically important in today's competitive world." The site also lists accreditations from the Global Accreditation Bureau and the Accreditation Panel for Online Colleges and Universities.

Corllins University message from the president.

However a quick Google search for both of those accreditation groups pulls up multiple lists for unrecognized accreditation organizations or even "fake college accreditation agencies."

Corllins University is not on the Department of Education's list of accredited colleges and universities. Generally, a diploma is not considered valid by other schools, employers, or the federal government in terms of financial aid, if it is not from an accredited university.

The school was allegedly located in Stockton, California, but the California Department of Consumer Affairs responded saying they didn't have any information on the school. The following statement was given to The Morning Sun:

"'The California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education is unable to locate any information on Corllins University ever obtaining or requesting approval in California,' California Department of Consumer Affairs Information Officer Joyia Emard said. 'We researched records from 1987 to present. Had the school been operating in California, it would have been required to have some sort of approval.'"

"Diploma Mills" are a scam you should know about.

In November of last year, the Better Business Bureau in New England put out a warning about diploma mills.

"They’re called diploma mills — businesses that will give you a sheet of paper stating you earned a degree, instead of an actual education," wrote the Bureau. "Fast, easy, and 100% fake. Although you’ll have that diploma, it won’t mean anything."

Although a degree from an unaccredited college doesn't mean anything in theory, it could slip by an employer who doesn't have the time or the resources to check the information.

In 2004, Thomas Bartlett and Scott Smallwood of the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on educators who got jobs with "fake diplomas" or diplomas from unaccredited institutions. They highlighted news stories about grade-school teachers and professors who were fired after their credentials were uncovered as fraudulent.

"Not to mention dozens of professors who hold degrees from unaccredited colleges, some of which require nothing more than a credit-card number and a mailing address," the two wrote. "And those are just the ones who can be found in the nooks and crannies of the Internet. Their true numbers are anybody's guess, although considering that unaccredited institutions rake in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, it's safe to say the problem isn't small."

In 2013, BBC News used a dog's name to apply for a degree at the American University of London and four days later the dog had an MBA for an application fee of $50.

In 2015, Declan Walsh at The New York Times reported on hundreds of websites for fake diplomas run by one Pakistani company Axact, a company that had 2,000 employees at the time.

"At Axact’s headquarters, former employees say, telephone sales agents work in shifts around the clock. Sometimes they cater to customers who clearly understand that they are buying a shady instant degree for money," wrote Walsh. "But often the agents manipulate those seeking a real education, pushing them to enroll for coursework that never materializes, or assuring them that their life experiences are enough to earn them a diploma."

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