Protecting Education Consumers

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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 (WSAC). 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.

Washington Student Achievement Council's (WSAC) role

Consumer protection

Complaints on unfair business practices:

Students who believe they have lost tuition and fees as the result of unfair business practices by institutions authorized by the Council can send WSAC a complaint. 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. 


Investigative authority

Conditions leading to investigation:

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:

  • A physical presence, which can include campus location, a mailing address, or a telecommunications number in the state; 
  • Advertising or recruiting in a manner that specifically targets Washington residents; and 
  • Offering distance learning degree programs that include a required field placement component that takes place in Washington. 

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 that it ceases such activity in the state.


False academic credentials

False 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:

  • Has not been granted accreditation by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, or
  • 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.



Information on transfers:

Colleges in Washington State have degrees and agreements to make transfer easier for students. Learn more about transfer.


Closed college transcripts

The collection of transcripts:

WSAC has the authority to take possession of student transcripts from an institution that closes, should the transcripts be deemed in danger of destruction. WSAC also maintains student transcripts for some schools that have ceased to operate in Washington State. Only records provided to WSAC at the time of the school's closure are available, not every record or transcript for every student. WSAC provides copies to students upon request.

WSAC 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
  • Northwest Institute of Literary Arts
  • 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 855-265-0066 or mail to:

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


Diploma Mills

Diploma mill definition:

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. 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. 

Signs of a diploma mill

Indicators to take caution:

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, or the website does not show a physical location for the college.

  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.



Next steps:

Step 1
Determine if the college is operating legally. If the college claims to operate in Washington State, please contact WSAC by email at 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 agency. First, ask the college if it is accredited and if so, the name of the accrediting agency. Second, determine if the accrediting agency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, confirm with the accrediting agency 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 agency that is not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Review the U.S. Department of Education’s lists of recognized accrediting agencies.

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.