The word "accreditation" is often loosely used by business schools and universities—particularly by institutions that are not legit, such as diploma mills and schools that do not have the proper credentials to grant degrees. Often times, a diploma mill will gain accreditation from what is known as an "accreditation mill." Accreditation mills are organizations that do not have proper authorization to accredit higher-education institutions. As a prospective student, it is not only very important to inspect a school's level of accreditation, but also by whom it is accredited. This is important whether you plan to study in Europe, the Americas, or Asia.
Here are a few of the characteristics of an accreditation mill:
- Accreditation Status Available for Purchase: As with diploma mills, accreditation mills will place a price on their accreditation versus the process (e.g., actual review of institutions). Accreditation mills also frequently charge fees that are significantly higher than those of legitimately recognized accreditation organizations.
- Permanent Accreditation: A sure sign that an accrediting body is a mill is if it offers permanent accreditation without requiring a periodic review and renewal. For instance, AACSB Accreditation for business programs requires that institutions maintain their quality through a five-year review cycle.
- Vague or Absent Standards: Genuine accrediting bodies are typically transparent about their accreditation standards. Accreditation mills, by contrast, may only list a few (and in some cases no) quality standards upon which they base their accreditation.
- Dubious Relations: Accreditation mills will sometimes list legitimate colleges, universities, and/or programs that they claim to have accredited, though the colleges, universities, and programs themselves seem to have no relationship with the organization. Alternatively, some accreditation mills do not display lists of their "accredited" schools at all, or do not display their lists until an institution applies for their "services."
- Quick Accreditation: Accreditation mills often provide accreditation over a suspiciously short period of time. For example, it typically takes three to seven years for an institution to earn AACSB Accreditation. However, there are accreditation mills that claim their certification can be obtained in 60–120 days.
- Round-Robin: Diploma mills and accreditation mills are sometimes separate units managed by the same person or entity. Be especially wary if all of the institutions accredited by an organization have websites that are surprisingly similar in form and content, particularly if they all display the signs of a diploma mill.