A diploma mill is a term for an organization that provides a certificate that indicates educational achievement for a fee. Strictly, the term has some legal implication. In the United States, that meaning was codified in the 1950s in the wake of the GI Bill, which provided government subsidy of education for soldiers after World War II. Accreditation standards were set up to ensure that organizations that charged tuition and granted degrees and diplomas actually offered a significant education. A diploma mill, then, is an organization that awards a degree or diploma without the provision of a significant education, or without enforcing a standard of achievement by a student before conferring such an award. Basically, these organizations are willing to sell diplomas and degrees.
Sometimes the term is applied to a program within a school that is legitimately accredited. For example, some colleges and universities have been criticized for acting like "diploma mills" for some students who are star athletes.
Many diploma mills rely on other organizations to provide phony accreditation for their operations. Such bodies are called accreditation mills, and will provide diploma mills with accreditation with little or no enquiries made as to the quality of the education given at such institutions.
Famous diploma mill students
- Kent Hovind, the infamous creationist who is currently serving a ten-year sentence in federal prison for tax evasion, got MA and Ph. D degrees from Patriot University - now Patriot Bible University - in Del Norte, Colorado. His Ph. D thesis was significantly shorter than is usually acceptable in academia, and riddled with spelling and grammar errors. Patriot refuse to provide copies of Hovind's thesis without getting prior permission from Hovind, but has used a photograph and quote from Hovind in one of their application forms.
- British television nutritionist Gillian McKeith attended - by correspondence - Clayton College of Natural Health in Birmingham, Alabama, who refuse to provide copies of McKeith's thesis upon request, although it is available as a pamphlet. Action was brought against McKeith through the UK's Advertising Standards Authority which has stopped McKeith referring to herself as "Dr". McKeith's claims to have conducted clinical research in the area of nutrition are not backed up by Medline or other databases of scholarly research. McKeith claims to be a member of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, but such membership can be purchased online for $60.
- Karen Bartelt, The Dissertation Kent Hovind Doesn't Want You to Read: A Review of Kent Hovind's Thesis, No Answers in Genesis
- Ben Goldacre, Brought to book: the poo lady's PhD, The Guardian, February 3 2007
- Ben Goldacre, A menace to science, The Guardian, February 12 2007
- Ben Goldacre, Eccentric, brilliant, bollocks, The Guardian, August 12 2004
- Ben Goldacre, Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD) continued, The Guardian, September 30 2004