High school dropouts target of online diploma mills

Shabree Vest has always dreamed of going to college, but that dream has been put on hold. She was forced to drop out of high school during her junior year in order to get a job to support herself.

Immediately after Shabree dropped out, she started looking for ways to complete her high school education. That's when she came across an online program. She said, "I took the test and passed the test. I got a diploma and the transcript."

Shabree spent nearly $300 to get that diploma, but when she went to enroll in college, she found out it wasn't worth the paper it was printed on." They said it wasn't credible," she recalls.

"We are extremely concerned," says Alabama Department of Education Coordinator Earlene Patton. Patton is the technology coordinator for the Alabama Department of Education.

Patton says Shabree is just one of many students targeted by so-called online diploma mills. "They feel students are desperate and will do anything to get a diploma."

Patton says students must do their research. There are ways to make sure a university or potential employer will accept your degree. "The first thing I would do is check to see if they are accredited," says Patton.

The online program Shabree used looked legit. She learned her lesson the hard way. Now, she's studying to get her GED. Patton says getting a GED is an excellent option. "Colleges now accept GEDs and most businesses do."

Also remember, there are online GED programs that are not legitimate. We checked out the school Shabree paid. The Better Business Bureau lists 70 complaints for Jefferson High School online. The school responded referencing the terms on its web site that explain Jefferson is not an accredited institution.

College administrators in South Carolina say they haven't seen many problems because they encourage students to get GEDs through the South Carolina Department of Education.

Since some colleges don't require GEDs, its best to check with your prospective school to see what they require. Verify any GED program with the state by calling the Department of Education at 803-734-8500. Then check it out on the Better Business Bureau's website at www.bbb.org.

Not all online diploma programs are bad. Again, do your research to make sure it's accredited, before you hand over any money.

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