A lot of times people use the term "diploma mill" to describe a business that issues novelty diplomas. Although this is true, not all novelty diplomas are issued by mills.

To better understand my point, you need to know what a degree or diploma mill is.

What is a diploma mill?

In short, a diploma mill is a business acting under the name of a phony educational institute which in returns distributes diplomas on the behalf of their school. Case in point, I start up a university online called "McGuire Institute of Commerce" and for $1,000 I'll sell you a diploma from McGuire and you can tell your friends, whomever, you graduated for my school.

A lot of people will say, well McGuire isn't a real school because they aren't real classes or a campus but that is where the definition of a diploma mill gets murky. You see, let's say I set my own academic standards and say, "In order to graduate from McGuire Institute of Commerce, you must answer these twenty questions". They can be any twenty questions of my choosing but if you get them correct, you pass and are awarded a diploma from my school. Well, in a way you graduated from McGuire Institute of Commerce based upon the academic requirements set forth by my institution.

These days, we see a ton of new schools popup and exist under similar circumstances. So their own curriculum may not be as lax as what I described with my McGuire example above, but they do set their own standards and issue degrees based upon those standards.

For this reason, there are a lot of private institutes that operate in a way that is borderline mill-like.

Give me another example of a diploma mill?

Have you seen the 2006 comedy hit "Accepted"? I won't give too much of it away, but it's a movie about this lovable loser named Barley who gets denied acceptance to number of colleges he hopes to attend. Feeling unaccepted, he comes up with a genius to start his own mill called "South Harmon Institute of Technology" or S.H.I.T. for short. This way he can proudly tell everybody he got into college even if the college is a total sham.

Before he knows it, other folks in the same predicament want to say they were accepted into South Harmon too. Only problem is, people expect orientation to meet the professors, get some brochures, etc. It's now more important than ever that South Harmon looks legitimate, so Bartley rents an abandon building and renovates it to look like a functioning college. He even designs South Harmon school apparel, comes up with a mascot and builds a legit looking school website; a one-of-a-kind novelty degree site if you will.

Before Bartley knows it, thousands of applicants are lining up to get accepted into South Harmon! Now he has to figure out what's required to get novelty diplomas from his mill.

Just what does he want to have taught? What do his attendees what to learn?

How does South Harmon differ McGuire or other mills?

In my example above, I explained that a mill is simply a school that sets it's own academic standards. The idea of South Harmon isn't much different than that of McGuire Institute of Commerce. Both schools set their own personal standards and then award diplomas when those standards are set.

If you still can't fathom this description of a mill, think about this. So let's say there are two schools, Idaho Falls College (a legit sounding but totally made-up state run university) and Dukesford College of our Lord (a made-up religious institute). Both schools, for this example, are well respected institutes with thousands of active students yearly.

So Idaho Falls College has to abide by academic regulations set forth by a governing body. For science degrees that they issue, students must have evolution as apart of their curriculum. Dukesford, on the other hand, is a private religious institute that chooses not to teach evolution but still awards degrees in science. The degrees that Dukesford issues are based upon their own academic standards set forth by the institute. We can argue over which accreditation holds more value but both schools have the right to issue diplomas and a mill, guided by the same legal flexibility, often acts in the same regard and it's why many educational businesses labeled as mills continue to operate without restrictions. Others may claim any diplomas issued by schools such as Dukesford are nothing more than novelty degrees although Dukesford may feel the same about the papers handed out by Idaho Falls College.