Texas has shut down a Houston-based company that was said to have been running an online high school "diploma mill".
Lincoln Academy, an online homeschooling program offering high school diplomas for a flat fee and no course work, was ordered to stop accepting new students by a district judge, who also ordered the company to shut down its website and social media pages and cease all operations.
The company insisted the program offered was nationally accredited and its diplomas were accepted by colleges, employers and the US military.
"In the end, consumers pay hundreds of dollars for a worthless piece of paper that provides none of the promised benefits of a legitimate high school education," the state said in its lawsuit.
In order to receive a diploma, a tuition fee of $299 was assessed to each student which would give access to online coursework and a five-section exam that could be taken without supervision.
One student, Chelsea Moon, had enrolled in the program in June but was told she needed to take a course first, which turned out to be a 20-minute exam. She was then asked to pay an additional $100 for a hard copy of her diploma. When she requested a refund it never came and the company told her she did not qualify for a diploma.
"It's frustrating and it's really cruel to do that to someone," Moon said.
According to the company's Facebook page, it has been in operation since 2010 and had accumulated almost 10,000 "likes".
The company agreed to close its doors and pay the state of Texas $2 million, including $1.4 million awarded to deceived customers, and released this statement:
"Lincoln Academy was providing a legal, valuable service that helped thousands of high school dropouts earn their high school diploma and further their education or employment. In fact, as you can see in the Agreed Final Judgment, there was no proof of any wrongdoing. We deemed it was best to settle this lawsuit and stop operating the school because of the overreaching power the Attorney General possesses. We have no regrets about the thousands of students we were able to help who were satisfied with Lincoln Academy."
The Texas Attorney General's Office warns all students to look out for diploma mills, companies which are usually only available online, are not nationally accredited, and offer curricula that can be completed in a short period of time with little to no coursework involved. Those who obtain diplomas from such institutions are most likely not eligible for state and federal financial aid.
"A diploma mill creates a danger to employers since educational achievements can tell a great deal about a job applicant's ability, qualifications, and motivation," says Attorney Lester Rosen, Founder and CEO of Employment Screening Resources ® (ESR) and author of âThe Safe Hiring Manual.'