Student Resources

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Below are resources for selecting the best schools and information on how to determine if an institution is a “degree/diploma mill."

Choosing a School​
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The pursuit of education requires a significant investment of time and money; and you expect that education to pay off in employment, career enhancement, and/or a career change. As a consumer, you want to thoroughly investigate the options available before making a decision. The information provided below and elsewhere on this website can help you in that decision-making process.​

The School

How can you make sure the school you select will not fail you? Consider the following about a school:

  • Call the human resource department of the businesses in the field you would like to enter. Ask what education/training and credentials they look for in prospective employees. Find out if openings in the field are plentiful and what schools best prepare their employees.
  • Call the school and ask for its graduation rates. Also ask for the percentages of students who pass their licensing exams and/or get placed in jobs.
  • Request the names and phone numbers of recent graduates. Ask them: Did you find the training useful? Did you find work? A school that cannot put you in touch with satisfied customers is one you may want to avoid.
  • If the school is accredited (see explanation below), write or call the accrediting agency and ask for the results of the school's latest review.
  • Contact an employment or career counselor and ask about schools in the field that you want to pursue.
  • Call the Educational Approval Program (EAP) at (608) 266-1996 and speak with a school administration consultant about the school's compliance history, any complaints that may have been filed by students, or the findings from recent visits to the school.
The Program

Once you have identified potential schools, you will want to request school catalogs and/or access that information on-line. This information will define the workings of the school and outline the courses of instruction offered. As you learn about the schools and their programs, ask yourself the following:
  • Will the course of instruction qualify me for employment in my chosen field?
  • Am I capable of and sufficiently interested in pursuing and completing the total program?
  • Is this school the best source of training in the field and are there other public, private, or vocational options?
  • Do I really need to complete this program to be employed in this field and are my prospects of getting a job good if I complete the program?
  • Is the cost of the course of instruction reasonable for the amount of training provided?
  • Am I financially able to pay for the program?

Using the DSPS website, https://dsps.wi.gov/Pages/Professions/Default.aspx, you are able to see what, if any, licensing requirements your profession of interest may be required. If you will be required to gain licensure, make sure you have an understanding of how the program will meet those needs. If you will be required to take a test to gain licensure, contact your prospective school(s) to see if they will be assisting in this process.

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Degree, Diploma, and Accreditation Mills

In their quest for higher education and training, students and the public sometimes encounter "degree and diploma mills" − providers of educational offerings or operations that offer certificates and degrees that are considered bogus. They may also encounter "accreditation mills" − providers of accreditation and quality assurance or operations that offer a certification of quality of institutions that is considered bogus.

Diploma, degree, and accreditation mills mislead and cause harm. In the U.S., degrees and certificates from mills may not be acknowledged by other institutions when students seek to transfer or go to graduate school. Employers may not acknowledge degrees and certificates from degree or diploma mills when providing tuition assistance for continuing education. "Accreditation" from an accreditation mill can mislead students and the public about the quality of an institution. In the presence of degree, diploma and accreditation mills, students may spend a good deal of money and receive neither an education nor a useable credential.

There is no single definition of "degree mill", "diploma mill", or of "accreditation mill" in higher education. Some agencies of the federal government scrutinize degree, diploma, and accreditation mills, but this is quite limited to date. In general, a degree or diploma mill would not pass the approval process required by the Educational Approval Program (EAP). Similarly, accreditation mills would struggle with the pre-screening required by a recognized accrediting body.

The following link provides an explanation of the difference between EAP approval and accreditation.

GED and HSED Information

Concerns over questionable academic credentials are not limited to the postsecondary education sector. There is great concern about individuals taking General Educational Development (GED) courses or obtaining a High School Equivalency Diploma (HSED) from illegitimate providers. The Department of Public Instruction is the state agency in Wisconsin charged with overseeing GEDs and HSEDs. Additional information is also available from the American Council on Education (ACE) and the following ACE publication.
Online Programs Offering Unauthorized GED Credentials.

Identifying Degree, Diploma, and Accreditation Mills

Identifying degree, diploma and accreditation mills is not easy. A number of the features of degree and diploma mills are similar to familiar higher education institutions. A number of the features of accreditation mills are similar to well-known accrediting organizations. Nonetheless, prospective students, employers and the public can look for several indicators that suggest an operation may be a degree, diploma, or accreditation mill. It is the presence of a number of these features taken together that should signal to students and the public that they may, indeed, be dealing with a "mill."

A series of questions follows to help determine whether a provider is a diploma mill or an accreditation mill. In each case, if, for example, the answers to a majority of the questions below are "yes," students and the public should take this as highly suggestive that they may be dealing with a mill. In this circumstance, students and the public may be best served by looking for alternatives for higher education and quality assurance.

​Degree & Diploma Mills

If the answers to many of these questions are "yes," the operation under consideration may be a "mill":

  • Can degrees be purchased?
  • Is there a claim of accreditation when there is no evidence of this status?
  • Is there a claim of accreditation from a questionable accrediting organization?
  • Does the operation lack state or federal licensure or authority to operate?
  • Is there little, if any, attendance required of students?
  • Are few assignments required for students to earn credits?
  • Does the period of time required to earn a degree seem short?
  • Are degrees available based solely on experience or resume review?
  • Are there few requirements for graduation?
  • Does the operation charge very high fees in comparison with average fees charged by other higher education institutions?
  • Alternatively, is the fee so low that it does not appear to be related to the cost of providing legitimate education?
  • Does the operation fail to provide any information about a campus or business location or address and relies, e.g., only on a post office box?
  • Does the operation fail to provide a list of its faculty and their qualifications?
  • Does the operation have a name similar to other well-known colleges and universities?
  • Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?
Accreditation Mills

If the answers to many of these questions are "yes," the operation under consideration may be a "mill":

  • Does the operation allow accredited status to be purchased?
  • Does the operation publish lists of institutions or programs they claim to have accredited without institutions and programs knowing that they are listed or have been accredited?
  • Are high fees for accreditation required as compared to average fees from accrediting organizations?
  • Does the operation claim that it is recognized (by, e.g., USDE or CHEA) when it is not?
  • Are few if any standards for quality published by the operation?
  • Is a very short period of time required to achieve accredited status?
  • Are accreditation reviews routinely confined to submitting documents and do not include site visits or interviews of key personnel by the accrediting organization?
  • Is "permanent" accreditation granted without any requirement for subsequent periodic review?
  • Does the operation use organizational names similar to recognized accrediting organizations?
  • Does the operation make claims in its publications for which there is no evidence?



Financial Information

School is expensive. Below are some financial considerations students should think about.

Smart Education Funding

School is expensive. Below are some financial considerations students should think about.

There are many ways to pay for school. Below are some of the creative ways that you can have your education funded without leading to student loans.

Does your career actually require scho​oling?

Many view education as the fast track to a high paying career in any field. However, many career fields don't require you to go to school for a formal education and can be self-studied or learned with on-the-job training. Before agreeing to pay large amounts of money to go to school talk to people/businesses within the field you would like to enter to see if they offer an entry level position where you can grow in the field and get paid to do it. The other thing to consider is how much more money will you make with the education? If your program costs $20,000 but your income increase is 2.00 per hour it may or may not be worth the money.

Employer Assistance

Many employers offer tuition assistance or a continuing education benefit for their employees. Ask your current or a projected employer if they offer a tuition assistance program. Things to look for:

  • Do you have to be a full-time employee to receive this?
  • With your projected program will you be able to continue working while at school?
  • Can you get a position with your employer that would provide work experience to compliment the education you are receiving?

Make an agreement with a future employer

A rarely looked for route to have your schooling paid for can be to make an agreement with a future employer in the field. These agreements generally consist of an employer agreeing to pay X of your tuition and you agreeing to work for them for Y years. This method is most beneficial in fields requiring specialized training such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, marketing, etc. However, any employer could agree to an agreement of this nature.

Military Service

Military service is another way to pay for education. Many schools are approved for the Montgomery GI Bill which is a terrific debt free way to pay for your education. The other advantage with this is you can get specialized training within your chosen career field through the military. This benefit can grow to encompass education past a bachelor's degree depending on career progression. Things to look for:

  • Which branch offers the best positions to complement your education?
  • Which branch offers the best education benefits for you?
  • Full time military, Reserves and National Guard all receive different benefits so check with all three
Find the most cost-effective school

School selection is one of if not the most important part of paying for school smartly. Many schools offer similar programs at different costs, talk to school advisors from different schools and see what specifically they offer to you. Things to look at include:

  • Is the school giving you in state or out of state tuition?
  • What their cost per program/credit is.
  • What their graduation rates are.
  • What transfer credits they will offer you from prior schooling.
  • What credits you can have waived due to military experience or work experience.
  • Do they have any school specific grants or scholarships that you qualify for?

It is up to the institution to determine how they set up their programs and what they will accept as a substitution for their courses. Because of this, it benefits you to shop around. Talk to multiple private schools, tech schools and state colleges to find out what is the best choice for you.

Scholarships

Scholarships are the best way to pay for your education. According to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study the average scholarship amount in 2008 was $2,500 for undergraduate students. If you spend 40 hours applying for scholarships and only get one at the average rate you would make the equivalent of $62.50 per hour for your time. It is well worth your time to apply to as many scholarships as possible.

Another link that may be useful is from the National Center for Education Statistics. This page shows the "average amount of grant and scholarship aid and average net price for first-time, full-time degree/certificate seeking students awarded Title IV aid, by control and level of institution and income level: Selected years, 2009-10 through 2016-17."


Additional Financial Information

IMPORTANT NOTE: This information does not constitute financial advice. It is intended to help students and others understand the various financial mechanisms that exist as they are making decisions about pursuing a postsecondary education.

Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is complete and accurate. The EAP cannot be held responsible for any loss incurred as a result of the use of this information. As with any financial or tax matter, it is recommended that proper professional advice be sought before any action is taken. All figures cited are current for tax year 2015.

The cost of pursuing postsecondary education and training usually requires a significant investment of time and money. Beyond an individual's own resources, there are a wide range of financial options intended to help make the pursuit possible. However, because the financial options are so varied they can be a challenge to understand. Moreover, unique circumstances specific to each individual add to the complexity.

Federal Resources

For students considering a traditional college or university, there are a number of tools available to help students compare costs and financial aid. One such tool is the Net Price Calculator from the U.S. Department of Education. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has useful information about paying for college, as well as understanding and managing student debt.

State Resources

Students and parents who have questions about college and student debt can contact the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). The DFI website has information on how to plan for college, and points graduates toward Wisconsin financial institutions that offer refinancing for student debt. DFI can be contacted at 608-266-3289.

For many, paying for education and training requires some type of financial aid. This might consist of a grant, scholarship, work-study, or loan. In addition, there are an increasing number of tax incentives available, such as credits, deductions, and tax-free savings programs.

Financial Aid

Government and School Sponsored Funding: Scholarships and grants are monies that do not have to be repaid. School sponsored work-study programs involve earning money either on-campus or off-campus during the academic year. Many scholarships, grants, and work-study programs are typically awarded to students who have demonstrated financial need as determined by a federal formula based on the results of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). As these options provide a debt-free way of funding all or a portion of your education, you should explore these options first.  Additional information about financial aid programs is available from the U.S. Department of Education.

 Important Information for Students with Federal Loan Questions or Complaints

For questions or complaints regarding active institutions and newly closed institutions, students should contact the USDOE Resource Center at 1-800-872-5327 or the Federal Student Aid (FSA) Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.

If the institution is closed, student should contact the USDOE Ombudsman at 1-877-557-2575 or https://studentaid.gov/feedback-ombudsman/disputes/prepare. Questions and complaints can also be emailed to caseteams@ed.gov

In general, the degree-granting institutions approved by the EAP participate in the federal financial aid programs (also known as Title IV). Information on whether a specific EAP-approved school participates in Title IV programs is available when using this website's school and program search feature. Although students attending these institutions are eligible for federal financial aid, they are not currently eligible for state financial aid provided by the state of Wisconsin.

Tuition Payment Plans
Tuition payment plans are an interest and debt-free way to spread tuition payments over several months. This option is best for families who have discretionary income that will cover all of, or a portion of, the gap between the cost of attendance and the financial aid received. When evaluating this option, consider that an enrollment fee or participation fee is often required. Compare this fee to the fee or tax implications of liquidating an asset or the interest associated with a loan.

Student Loans

There are several types of loans available to students. Federal student loans are low interest, long-term loans which offer attractive repayment options. The federal student loan program includes loans for both parents and students. In addition, third-party or alternative student loans are offered by federally sponsored financial institutions such as SLM Financial (Sallie Mae), Key Bank, Wells Fargo, and others. These are often available to students who choose to attend institutions that do not participate in the federal student aid programs. For information on ways to avoid deceptive student loan practices, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Education have developed a student resource guide.

Home Equity Loans

Many parents choose home equity loans or second mortgages because they are readily available – assuming they have equity in their home and good credit. Home Equity Loans are tied to the amount of equity you have in your home. The interest accrued and paid is typically deductible on a federal tax return.

Credit Cards

This option is typically not the best choice for students or their families as interest rates on credit cards tend to be high.


Tax Information

IMPORTANT NOTE: This information does not constitute financial advice. It is intended to help students and others understand the various financial mechanisms that exist as they are making decisions about pursuing a postsecondary education.

Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided is complete and accurate. The EAP cannot be held responsible for any loss incurred as a result of the use of this information. As with any financial or tax matter, it is recommended that proper professional advice be sought before any action is taken. All figures cited are current for tax year 2015.

Tax Incentives

Tax Credits: A tax credit is an amount that you're allowed to subtract from what you owe in taxes. When you pay college costs, you can subtract a certain amount from your tax bill later on. There are two different tuition tax credit programs. The amount of the credit varies and is subject to a number of rules, depending on which credit you use and how the money is used, such as tuition/fees or room/board. You may not claim more than one type of credit for the same student in any one year.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides a federal income tax credit of up to $2,500 (40% refundable) per student based on the first $4,000 in postsecondary tuition, fees and course materials paid by the taxpayer during the tax year. The credit equals 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the second $2,000. The tax credit is limited to the first four years of postsecondary education.

The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit provides a federal income tax credit of up to $2,000 per taxpayer based on the first $10,000 in postsecondary tuition and fees paid by the taxpayer during the tax year. The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is 20% of the first $10,000. The tax credit may be received for an unlimited number of years.

Tax Deductions: There are a number of tax deductions that persons may be able to claim. For a student for whom no education credit is claimed, tuition and fees may be deducted to reduce income. Qualifying expenses must not have been paid with any other tax-free benefit. There is also a tax deduction for work-related education that is required to keep your job or to maintain or improve skills needed in your present work, but not if the education is needed to meet the minimum requirements of your position or is part of a program to qualify you for a new trade or business. Finally, up to $2,500 of interest paid on qualified student loans may be deducted. The deductions are phased out as income rises.

In addition to the above federal tax provisions, students attending any EAP-approved institution are able to claim a tax deduction from their state income (the maximum deduction for TY 15 was $6,943). More detailed information is provided in the Form 1 Instructions available from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

529 Savings Plans: A 529 savings plan (named after its section number in the IRS code) is a state-sponsored investment program to help save for postsecondary education costs. The savings can generally be used to pay for education costs at any accredited degree-granting educational institution, whether it is a public, private, two-year, or four-year institution. In Wisconsin, the state contracts with an asset management company, and investors open a 529 account with that asset management company.

The following are some of the advantages of a 529 college savings plan.

  • No taxes are paid on the account's earnings.
  • The investor (not the beneficiary) has control of or access to the account.
  • If the beneficiary (typically a child) chooses not to attend college, the account can be rolled over to another qualifying family member.
  • Anyone can contribute to the account.
  • There are no income limitations that might make an investor ineligible for an account.
  • Most states have no age limit for when the money has to be used.
  • If the beneficiary receives a scholarship, any unused money can be withdrawn without paying any penalty (just the tax).

Investors have two options under a 529 plan. One option lets you prepay tuition at a qualified educational institution at today's tuition rates. Another option lets you save money in a tax-deferred account (earnings only) to be used to pay for education at future tuition rates. The idea, with either option, is that the investment earnings will grow to meet the higher costs of future education.

Wisconsin's state-sponsored college savings program is made up of the EdVest and the tomorrow's scholar College Savings Plans.

IMPORTANT NOTE: More detailed information about tax benefits for education can be found in IRS Publication 970.

  • Other Assets: 401K plans, stock portfolios, savings accounts, and IRAs offer a debt-free option for funding education. Before liquidating an asset, consider the earnings that you'll be foregoing as well as any associated fees or penalties. Then, compare the lost earnings to the interest that would accrue on a student loan or the fee on a tuition payment plan.