The growth of online programmes and MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) has changed the higher education landscape.
An online degree programme is an academic degree where students earn the qualification virtually through the Internet rather than a traditional campus or in-person class setting.
MOOCs are web-based learning, which are typically more affordable and flexible compared to online degree programmes.
There are quite a few differences between the two – for example, MOOCs are usually not for credit – but the common theme is that they can both be taken entirely online.
Now, earning both is easier than ever thanks to growing Internet penetration around the world.
According to ClassCentral, there were 110 million learners of MOOCs last year (excluding China) compared to 101 million in 2018 – showing there is year-on-year growth in this field.
However, with this growth comes the increase in fake versions of online degree programmes and MOOCs.
According to Business Insider, there are over 350 such websites that pose as legitimate online universities, selling approximately 200,000 fake online degrees.
The consequences of getting caught with a fake online degree are severe. You could not only get fired, but you could also end up serving a prison sentence – so it’s important to vigilant when you apply for an online degree programme.
It can be difficult to discern which ones are fraudulent as their marketing tactics can be very persuasive, but there are some red flags to look out for to make sure it’s not fake:
You should only apply for an online degree at a university that is accredited. This means that the university has been validated by a government agency or the Ministry of Education in that particular country.
The university will typically display or reference this accreditation on their website. You can also do a search on Accreditation.org. If you suspect the university is displaying fake accreditation, you can always call the agency and ask.
However, there are exceptions. According to US News, with the growth of alternative credentials – such as badges and certificates – some training programmes are actually not accredited. These include online coding boot camps or other skills-based training offered by a business.
In this case, accreditation may not be necessary as the programmes are offered by a legitimate business. But for actual degree programmes, you should be sure they are accredited or else they could likely be fake.
Often, fake online degree providers modify reputable universities’ names to trick people into thinking they are authentic or associated with that university.
For example, they might call themselves “Oxford Technological University” when such an institution doesn’t actually exist.
Be wary of websites that use these sorts of names, and if you suspect something is amiss, do more research to find out if they are the real deal.
Lack of contact and resource information
Is it difficult to find a contact phone number or address on the website? Does the contact e-mail address look a bit suspect? What about resource information?
Not having proper contact information is another red flag, as reputable colleges and universities will have various ways to contact them if you’d like to request further information.
They should also have resources for students clearly displayed on the website. According to US News, legitimate online programs normally should have a host of resources available to students, such as technology support, academic advising and library services.
If you can’t find clear evidence of those resources then you should be suspicious that it’s not a legit online degree programme.
If the admission requirements seem way too relaxed and they’re promising fast and easy ways to get accepted, chances are they’re not legit.
If they simply ask for a résumé or letter without asking for prior qualifications or exam results, you should be suspicious.
Since fake online degrees are just scams to get your money, the institution will try to persuade you that it’s easy to enrol and earn a degree so you will be tempted to apply and pay the fees.
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The university asking you to fork out for your entire tuition before you start is another major red flag. You should never be asked to pay the entire tuition fees upfront.
An institution that requires a student to pay a lot of money upfront before you’ve even gotten confirmation of admission is clearly not a legit online programme.
Tuition fees for a legit online programme are typically paid for in instalments on a yearly or per-semester basis.