Protecting Education Consumers

Since the inception of the Degree-Granting Institutions Act in 1986, the agency has had the authority to both investigate student complaints and ensure protection of student records, such as transcripts. Additionally, the agency safeguards consumers by ensuring authorized schools meet minimum standards related to academic quality and financial ability; investigating institutions that may be operating illegally in the state; considering student complaints to determine if an institution is in violation of the Degree-Granting Institutions Act; providing a service to former students of closed institutions by providing copies of their transcripts; and by investigating institutions believed to be issuing false academic credentials. The Act also protects Washington consumers from substandard, fraudulent, and deceptive activities at degree-granting colleges and universities authorized by the Washington Student Achievement Council.

In 2012, the Washington State Legislature enacted the False Academic Credentials law, RCW 9A.60.070, which both defines and provides penalties for the issuance or use of false academic credentials.

Agency Areas of Authority:

Consumer Protection:

Students who believe they have lost tuition and fees as the result of unfair business practices by institutions authorized by the Council should outline their concerns and send them with contact information to DegreeAuthorization@wsac.wa.gov.  Complaints must be filed by the student or his/her guardian no later than one year from the last date of attendance. Examples of unfair business practices including misrepresenting faculty qualifications or making false claims in a college catalog.

Agency staff has the authority to take possession of student transcripts from an institution that closes, should the transcripts be deemed in danger of destruction. The Washington Student Achievement Council would then maintain those records in perpetuity and provide copies of the transcripts upon the student’s request.

Investigative Authority:

Agency staff may investigate institutions believed to be operating in Washington State for purposes of offering degree programs.  Operation is defined as one of the following: 1) a physical presence, which can include anywhere from a campus to use of a mailing address or telecommunications number in the state; 2) advertising or recruiting in a manner that specifically targets Washington residents; and 3) offering distance learning degree programs that include a required field placement component that takes place in Washington. Should it be determined that an institution is operating in the state without authorization, agency staff will contact the institution in an effort to bring it into compliance.

Agency staff may also investigate institutions believed to be issuing false academic credentials in Washington.  Should it be determined that an institution is operating illegally in the state, staff will contact the institution in an effort to bring it into compliance or ensure it that it ceases such activity in the state.

False Academic Credentials

It is a crime to issue or use a false academic credential in Washington State. Specifically, anyone granting or offering to grant a false academic credential may be subject to a Class C felony, carrying a fine of up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.

Anyone knowingly using a false academic credential may be subject to a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison. The law defines a false academic credential as one issued by an entity that:

1. Has not been granted accreditation by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or
2. Has not been granted authorization, exemption, or waiver by the Washington Student Achievement Council.

The law, RCW 9A.60.070, also establishes a gross misdemeanor penalty for those who falsely claim academic degrees from legitimate institutions.

Closed College Transcripts

The Washington Student Achievement Council maintains student transcripts for some schools that have ceased to operate in Washington State. Only records provided to the Council at the time of the school's closure are available, not every record or transcript for every student.

The Council has transcripts for the following closed schools:

  • Behavioral Physiology Institutes
  • Crown College (degree program students only)
  • Henry Cogswell College
  • Maple Valley College, aka Pacific Western College or Renton College
  • Northwest Aviation College
  • Prometheus College
  • Rainier College

To request a copy of your transcript, download and complete this form. If you would like to have copies sent to more than one address, complete a separate form for each address.

Fax each completed form to 360-704-6203 or mail to:

Degree Authorization Transcript Request
Washington Student Achievement Council
P.O. Box 43430
Olympia, WA 98504-3430

Note: If a closed school is not listed above, contact the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board at 360-709-4600 or visit their website to determine if transcripts are available for schools not listed here.

Transcripts for the following closed schools are available from the sources below:

  • Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma): Rebecca Vessey, Registrar; Corban University; 5000 Deer Park Drive; Salem, OR  97317; rvessey@corban.edu
  • Kaplan College (Renton): Jennie Gross; Registrar; Kaplan College-Denver; 500 East Eighty-Fourth Avenue, Suite W-200; Thornton, CO 80229; Phone: 303-295-0550.
  • Puget Sound Christian College (Everett): Hope International University, Office of the Registrar; Phone: 714-879-3901, ext. 1606

Consumer Alert

University of Northern Washington has never been a legal degree-granting school in the state of Washington. There is no school by that name at a Seattle address that may have been used by University of Northern Washington. Any document showing a degree issued by University of Northern Washington would be considered a false academic credential under Washington state law.

The Washington Student Achievement Council has formally notified Everest College-Renton, owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc., of their suspended eligibility to receive state financial aid dollars for the 2014-15 academic year. This notification marks the beginning of proceedings to officially terminate the college’s participation in state financial aid programs. See studentaid.gov for useful student-level information pertinent to Corinthian Colleges.

Diploma Mills

A “diploma mill” or “degree mill” is generally defined as a substandard or fraudulent college that provides degrees to students who do little or no college-level work. Some diploma mills are outright frauds, sending a diploma to any applicant who pays a fee. Others may require applicants to take a few classes or document their work or life experience for credit.

Spotting diploma mills can be difficult. Below are 10 warning signs. If you see two or more of these warning signs, you may be dealing with a diploma mill.

  1. You can earn degrees in significantly less time than at a traditional college or university. 
  2. The college places a heavy emphasis on offering college credits for life experience.
  3. The college sends you a diploma if you pay a fee.
  4. The college lets you “buy” a grade point average and academic honors.
  5. The college charges tuition by the degree, or offers discounts if you enroll in multiple degree programs. (Traditional colleges generally charge by the credit hour, course, or semester, although some vocational schools charge tuition per program.)
  6. The college’s address is a post office box or suite number.
  7. The college’s website does not include information that a traditional college website might include, such as a mission statement, course requirements for specific programs, library resources, and faculty information.
  8. The college provides only vague information about its faculty or has no faculty, only “evaluators,” “mentors” or “counselors.”
  9. The college claims to be accredited by an association that either does not exist or is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  10. The name of a college is similar to a well-known and well-respected college.

Safeguards:

  • Step 1: Determine if the college is operating legally. If the college claims to operate in Washington State, please contact the Washington Student Achievement Council by email at DegreeAuthorization@wsac.wa.gov or at (360) 753-7869. If the college is operating outside Washington, contact the higher education agency or attorney general’s office in the state where it claims to be located. Ask if anyone has filed a complaint.
  • Step 2: Determine if the college is accredited by a recognized accrediting association. First, ask if the college is accredited and if so, the name of the accrediting association. Second, determine if the accrediting association is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, confirm with the accrediting association that the college is accredited as claimed. A college may be a diploma mill if it is not accredited or if it is accredited by an association that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Review the U.S. Department of Education’s lists of recognized accrediting associations.
  • Step 3: Talk with working professionals. Contact professionals working in your chosen field to see how they would view a degree from the college you are considering.

Finally, note that not all unaccredited colleges are diploma mills. Some unaccredited colleges require legitimate academic work. In most cases, schools must operate for at least two years prior to seeking accreditation.  Consequently, new schools will generally not be accredited.  Others, such as religious schools, may voluntarily choose not to seek accreditation.

Washington Transfer Issue Form

The transfer process is a vital link in Washington’s higher education system. All colleges and universities (two- and four-year, public and private) are committed to making the transition from one college or university to another as seamless as possible – to assist our students and to meet the state’s goals for bachelor degree attainment.

Students have the right to seek clarification regarding their transfer evaluation and may request the reconsideration of any aspect of that evaluation. In response, the institution will follow established practices and processes for reviewing its transfer credit decisions. Students who encounter other transfer difficulties have the right to seek resolution. Each institution will have a defined process for resolution that is published and readily available to students.

If concerns are not resolved after following every avenue at the college level, the Washington Student Achievement Council encourages students to complete the Transfer Issues Report Form. This Transfer Issue Online Report allows students to provide information on their transfer experience, which will be used to investigate further avenues for resolution and improve the transfer system in Washington.

Students may complete the form anonymously, or may include name and/or email address if a response is requested or desired. Alternatively, the following questions can be pasted into email and returned to transferliaison@wsac.wa.gov.