Fake Degrees Have Been an Issue for Far Too Long

The impact of forged credentials on students and educators and how ODEM is solving the problem


Fake education credentials are not a new problem, but the issue has hit a boiling point in our digital age. For as long as bad actors and fraudulent documentation has existed, so too have misleading degrees and diplomas. But with the prevalence of digital connection, we’re now hearing more and more about fake credentials, a problem which has only been exacerbated by the globalization of communication.

In their 2012 book, “Degree Mills: The Billion Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over a Million Fake Diplomas,” Allen Ezell and John Bear describe the issue as “a major crisis in the world of higher education.” At ODEM, we agree. Prospective employees can easily obtain a fraudulent academic record from a prestigious or even non-existent school simply by making a purchase over the internet. 

An age-old problem

The fake credential problem is two-fold: people who falsely claim to have attended a legitimate university or college, and people who purchase a counterfeit degree from a diploma mill. With the global reach of online school and digital marketing, this problem has escalated significantly, but it certainly isn’t new. Ezell and Bear estimate fraudulent academic claims have been made since the fourteenth century. A 2005 article from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation notes that “the first documented reference to degree mills was in 1876 when John Eaton, a United States Commissioner of Education, called them a disgrace to American education. (Bahur, 2003).”

By the time Ezell and Bear published their book, diploma mills had already become a $2 billion industry. The authors’ findings included a particular diploma mill based in Europe and the Middle East, but run by Americans, that had sold over 450,000 degrees, bringing in estimated revenues exceeding $450,000,000. Ezell and Bear explain that there are more than “3,300 unrecognized universities, worldwide, many of them outright fakes, selling bachelor’s, master’s, doctorates, law, and medical degrees to anyone willing to pay the price.”

While fake diplomas and degrees allow people to claim positions and careers they haven’t earned and unfairly take advantage of academic benefits, the greater impact is worse. What’s at risk is our ability to trust each other and trust the academic institutions that provide the basis for integrity in today’s world. Fake educational records chip away at this integrity, undercutting confidence in the educational system and discrediting legitimate schools. 

“The complication of fake qualifications extends beyond the feeling that they are part of growing academic corruption associated with the growth of access and participation in higher education worldwide.” 

United Nations and Council for Higher Education Accreditation

Closing the loophole with technology

What has also exacerbated the issue of fake credentials is an inability to efficiently authenticate degrees or prove an education history. With such a wide variety of schools available to students including online schools and course providers, it can be very challenging for employers and institutions to validate educational qualifications.

As we explained, technology significantly increased the problem of fake degrees, but technology can also provide a solution. Blockchain technology gives us the ability to easily verify and validate the provenance of information, providing the origin and authenticator of the data. Trusted verification of where a diploma or degree came from and who it belongs to is the missing piece in the fight against fraudulent claims. Blockchain does this with a global, immutable ledger and a private, authenticating key that belongs to the student. Students can verify the validity of their records by simply sharing the digital address of the record, proving which institute granted the designation, when it was issued, and for which discipline. Read more about this in a recent blog post about how blockchain-based records can help students.

Misleading degrees and diplomas will still exist, but with faster and easier methods of verifying authenticity of education records, we can lessen the use and proliferation of fake credentials. Blockchain technology provides the solution, combating fake credentials that disregard the time, cost, and energy that legitimate students devote to their education, which can be very disheartening. 

Putting the solution to work

In 2017, we identified blockchain technology as a credible solution to the problem and began to develop a platform that could connect students to the technology in a meaningful way. We wanted to ensure that we were harnessing the technology in a way that was mutually beneficial for students, educators, and institutions. This would bring confidence back to the system in such a way that all parties can trust and be trusted.

We did this with our blockchain-based on-demand education marketplace (ODEM), a platform that serves all three parties equally. The Platform provides accreditation for all education marketplace courses, as well as for students whose institutions partner with ODEM for issuance of blockchain-based credentials. Digital credentials certified on the blockchain by ODEM make it possible for students to easily share their academic records with recruiters, employers, and other universities or colleges.

These blockchain-based degrees and diplomas are institutionally-verified and recorded on the Ethereum blockchain. Notably, they can’t be tampered with, once on-chain they become a source of educational truth. For a deeper technical explanation of how the ODEM Platform interacts with the Ethereum blockchain, check out this blog post

In solving the issue of fake degrees, we’re also working to give students greater confidence and control over their educational records. Ultimately, we want to make education more affordable, accessible, transferable, and verifiable. Education should be for everyone, and the hard work you put into it should be confirmed with no room for doubt. View our course catalogue, and follow us on social media for the latest ODEM updates: Telegram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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