Imagine earning your high school degree and then being told your diploma is a worthless piece of paper.
The nightmare scenario is a reality for Shatandra Saulters, a 20-year-old high school dropout from Dallas, who enrolled in Billy Bush Academy, an online high school, in March. Saulters paid $100 for a six-week graduate course, an extra $55 for a cap and gown, and even attended a graduation ceremony with 300 other people. However, shortly after graduating, she applied to a local nursing program and was rejected on the grounds that her diploma wasn’t valid.
While Yahoo Shine could not reach Saulters for comment, she told the Dallas Morning News, “All of it was too easy. It didn’t seem right. I’d do a homework package at home, turn it in to a storefront office and get another.” The website for Billy Bush Academy is no longer working, but Saulters originally learned about the school from a flier posted outside a local church.
“People usually hear about these schools through word of mouth and they seem appealing because they offer a fast education, but it’s important to do the research,” Jeannette Koplo, senior vice president of communications at the Dallas Better Business Bureau (BBB) tells Yahoo Shine.
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In Texas, the only organization that can confirm whether a private school is officially authorized to issue diplomas is the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission, which monitors accreditation standards. In 1995, the Texas Supreme Court authorized home study programs to operate as private schools, however, the Texas Education Agency has no authority over home schooling and the state of Texas does not regulate home schools or award diplomas to students who are home schooled.
While Saulters has moved on with her education and is now enrolled in prep courses at Literacy Instruction for Texas to prepare for a GED test in January, Koplo says that Billy Bush Academy is only one of many schools offering fake diplomas and other students are still at risk of being scammed.
In November, the BBB released a report warning consumers about the validity of a high school called I. Jean Cooper Private School in Dallas, after fielding 6,000 complaints in one year from people claiming that the school’s degrees were useless in the eyes of colleges and employers. “Despite the school’s claims that they were a nationally and fully accredited high school, with 76 percent of its students continuing on to college, we found both claims to be false,” says Koplo. One graduate was told her diploma is “lower than a GED”, and another was told his was “fake.”
In order to complete its investigation, the BBB paid the school’s $89 fee, sent one of its employees to the school, and had him complete weekly homework assignments, sometimes with answers that were intentionally incorrect. The student received no grades or teacher feedback until graduation, when he discovered he had received an A in Physical Education for stating that he walked “occasionally during one week.” The BBB issued an F rating to the school, and the school's website is currently not functioning.
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The Better Business Bureau also issued an F rating to Dallas-based New Beginnings Christian Preparatory Academy, LLC, in October for making false claims that its graduating students can attend any federally funded four-year university of their choice and that the school was accredited. And in May, after graduating from the online Belford High School, Elizbeth Osborne, of Warren, Michigan, was rejected by two colleges for having a fake diploma. Osbourne had paid Belford $300 for her diploma, which accounted for classes she had never taken. She later discovered that the school was based somewhere in Pakistan.
“The best way for people to avoid these types of scams is to ask the school directly whether they are accredited and then to research the organization that accredits them,” says Koplo. “Another step is to check with the department of education in your state or your state's attorney general. People should know where their time and money are being spent."
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