Accrediting agencies play an important role in US higher education. They are the main “quality assurance” providers, helping students and families know that a college is legitimate.

One of the first things you should consider in evaluating a college is its accreditation, to make sure it is accredited and in good standing. Because of this, diploma/degree mills — which are scams — want to appear to have accreditation, which is something they can’t actually earn.

Unsurprisingly, there are now scams in accreditation. The US Department of Education calls these “fake accrediting agencies” and warns students not to trust them. These fake accrediting agencies are not approved by the US Secretary of Education. (To be an approved accrediting agency, an organization has to go through a recognition process.)

The consumer organization Get Educated maintains a list of fake accrediting agencies. If you look at these organizations’ names, you can see that they try to sound official. They often include in their names words like these.

  • Association
  • Board
  • Commission
  • Council
  • National

These are terms that are commonly used in names of real (approved) accrediting agencies!

Additionally, many of these organizations maintain websites, also making them look official. Typically somewhere on their site, they do admit that they are not recognized by the US Secretary of Education.

If in doubt, check the US Department of Education’s list of approved accrediting agencies. If an agency is not listed there, it is not what is typically meant by “accrediting agency,” and it may not be legitimate.