Education can be a little like the wild, wild, west- so it pays to know some of the potential ways scammers take advantage of people. In your Homeschooling for College Credit journey, there are a few slippery slopes to avoid. In this post, we’ll look at the most popular scams identified by the Federal Trade Commission, how to avoid them.
The High School Diploma Scam
Signs from the Federal Trade Commission that you could fall for a diploma scam:
- You can get a diploma from home, ASAP
No classes? No in-person test? All online? That’s a scam. Legitimate programs with classes for credit mean you’ll invest weeks or months of time. And real high school equivalency tests are offered at specific days and times, not on-demand. Most people don’t pass without really studying.
- You have to pay for a diploma
No legitimate high school equivalency program lets you take a test or classes for free, then charges you for the diploma. You might pay for classes or testing, but you shouldn’t have to pay for the diploma itself.
- They claim to be affiliated with the federal government
The federal government doesn’t offer programs for earning high school diplomas. Legitimate tests or programs are approved by your state.
Legitimate High School Diploma
Homeschools that are operating lawfully can issue a legitimate high school diploma to their children. If you need help with legal questions, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association can help you understand your state’s laws and graduation requirements.
If your teen is older or you want them to earn an equivalency diploma, four tests approved by at least one state (as of May 2016) are the GED, HiSET, TASC, and CHSPE. The CHSPE is offered in California only. California employers are required to accept it as the equivalent of a high school diploma.
These are the ONLY legitimate high school equivalency tests. These tests are:
- administered in person
- closed book
- scheduled for specific dates and times
These tests also will require an authentication process to make sure the test taker is the person who signed up for the test. Costs range from $50-$100. (FTC, 2019)
The Scholarship Scam
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, unscrupulous companies guarantee or promise scholarships, grants or fantastic financial aid packages. Many use high-pressure sales pitches at seminars where you’re required to pay immediately or risk losing out on the “opportunity.”
Some unscrupulous companies guarantee that they can get scholarships on behalf of students or award them “scholarships” in exchange for an advance fee. Most offer a “money back guarantee” – but attach conditions that make it impossible to get the refund. Others provide nothing for the student’s advance fee – not even a list of potential sources; still, others tell students they’ve been selected as “finalists” for awards that require an up-front fee. Sometimes, these companies ask for a student’s checking account to “confirm eligibility,” then debit the account without the student’s consent. Other companies quote only a relatively small “monthly” or “weekly” fee and then ask for authorization to debit your checking account – for an undetermined length of time.
Scholarships are gifts and awards for merit. A good rule of thumb is that your teen will have to compete for their award and, if eligible, will not have to pay a fee. Colleges all offer scholarships, so the best place to start looking for a legitimate scholarship is your college’s website. Colleges also sometimes provide links to external scholarships, especially those in certain occupations.
Legitimate scholarship websites are those who source and distribute information for you to follow up on; they don’t collect a fee. Homeschooling for College Credit keeps a list of external scholarships you can browse. We never charge a fee for scholarship information.
The Diploma Mill Scam
Federal Trade Commission offers these signs of a diploma mill:
- No Studies, No Exams, No Interaction
If you’re getting a degree without doing any work, chances are you’re dealing with a diploma mill. Legitimate colleges or universities — including online schools — require substantial course work and interaction with professors.
- “Get a Degree for Your Experience!”
Diploma mills grant degrees for “work or life experience” alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience relevant to a degree program, but not an entire degree.
- Flat Fee
Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester — not a flat fee for an entire degree.
- No Waiting
Though there are schools that offer accelerated degrees in-person or online, earning a degree still takes some time. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months, it’s probably a diploma mill.
- Pushy Advertising Tactics
Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won’t advertise through spam or pop-ups. They won’t use high-pressure telemarketing calls, either.
Homeschooling for College Credit suggests pursuing degrees only from regionally accredited colleges and universities. Your state’s public community colleges and universities are all going to hold regional accreditation, but not all private colleges do. It’s important to check accreditation, even if you “recognized” the name because many fraudulent colleges use names that sound like the name of a legitimate college.
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs posted by the U.S. Department of Education
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation database
There are a small number of legitimate institutions that have not pursued accreditation.
The Credit Laundering
This isn’t so much a scam as it is a mistake parents can make – but it happens enough that you need to be aware of it.
The idea starts like this: College A has a fantastic CLEP policy, so I use them to house my accumulated credit, and then when I’m ready, I’ll simply send my transcript to the college I really want to attend, College B, and voila! Transfer credit. Zonk!
Legitimate Credit Transfer
Colleges are highly predictable in how they transfer credit and, as you can guess, it’s not the first time they encounter a student attempting to launder credit. As such, all credit is evaluated via the original source. This means that no matter how many colleges accept your credit and place it on your transcript, a second college never “takes their word for it” and puts it on their transcript.
CLEP/AP/DSST: Use the policy of the college that will award the degree, not the intermediary school your teen attends for dual enrollment or for an associate degree. The exception is if the college that awards the degree will accept an associate degree as a “bundle” and not unpack the credits. This is usually part of an articulation agreement / aka transfer agreement and will be in writing. Be sure to understand this well before proceeding.
Dual Enrollment: Use the policy of the college that will award the degree, not the intermediary school your teen attends for dual enrollment. If your student is taking a dual enrollment course through a regionally accredited college, the likelihood of transfer is excellent. Note that non-college programs have a very low (almost zero %) likelihood of transfer into a college that doesn’t already have an agreement in place.
ACE / NCCRS Credit: Use the policy of the college that will award the degree, not the intermediary school your teen attends for dual enrollment or for an associate degree.
Legitimate Options that Save Money
There are REAL ways to save money on REAL degrees! That’s one of the things we love to share here, and one of the ways you can cut your teen’s degree cost by tens of thousands of dollars. To help show you real numbers, I’ll use my state of North Carolina to pull some numbers and show you how real families are saving real money.
- Free Dual Enrollment? Did you know your teen may have access to free tuition in high school? This is a BIG deal and parents don’t always know about it. Homeschooling for College Credit families use dual enrollment and save thousands. If your teen’s university charges $1500 for English 101 but your teen can take it for free in 12th grade, this is an instant savings! Some states allow teens to finish up to 2 years of college for free this way. At The University of North Carolina, students who took advantage of North Carolina’s free dual enrollment have saved $40,000 more than those students who didn’t know about free dual enrollment or opted not to take advantage!
- Transfer, transfer, transfer! Transfer credit can be an excellent way to reduce cost in a big way. In North Carolina (and most states), transfer from the community college to a university is a well-understood process. It’s written down, and easy to follow with a little planning. In North Carolina, taking a course through the community college costs under $300, while taking that same course at the university costs about $1500. If you take the maximum transfer allowed, you’ll complete 20 courses at the community college for about $6,000. This process replaces $30,000 of courses at the university! In other words, you’re saving $24,000.
- Credit by Exam. Credit by exam allows you to study independently using your own resources and “test out” of a college course. There are many standardized programs in place that allow you to do this. Several popular brands are CLEP, DSST, and Advanced Placement. More than half the colleges in the country allow you to use credit by exam and, for every course you test out of, that’s one less course to pay for – buy books for- and one class closer to graduation.
Other posts that can help you save money: