Is Capella University a Diploma Mill?

When people start looking at online universities a frequent question comes up: “Is Capella University a diploma mill?”  Capella University advertises heavily online. It should be no surprise that people are interested in Capella but are wary of the quality of the education.

Capella University is not a diploma mill. A diploma mill is a place that will basically sell you a diploma. Capella University requires a great deal of coursework in order to get a degree. A number of students can vouch for how much work is required to get a degree from Capella University.  Capella University is also accredited. It is accredited by the same institutions that accredit state schools. Diploma mills will often create their own little accrediting organization usually somewhere in the Bahamas and claim to be accredited. This is not what Capella University is doing. They are going through the same rigorous process that state schools must adhere to in order to achieve accreditation.

Another common trait of diploma mills is getting college credit for “life experience.” When you look at Capella University you’ll see that they do offer certain types of credit for life experience. However if you dig deeper you’ll find a great difference between the methodology used at Capella and what you will find at a diploma mill. Capella will not let you simply get a degree based on the fact that you had a job for the last five years. However, they will let you get credit toward your degree based on industry training, technical certification, and certain test scores. These credits are limited and can only compose a small amount of your required credits toward your degree. In many cases it will require an assessment test. In many ways this is similar to testing out of the subject at a traditional university.

We’ve established that Cappelli University is not a diploma mill. However, that does not mean they offer good educational value. The biggest advantage of Capella University is the convenience of taking classes online. As more and more state schools offer similar options disadvantage is diminishing rapidly. Furthermore if you look at the cost for degree from Capella University you’ll often find it is one of the most expensive schools you can attend. When you factor in the lower reputation of Capella as a college the value proposition is very low.

That’s not to say Capella is never a good choice for a particular individual. In some cases your employer may have a deal with Capella and offer free or reduced tuition that will help increase the value proposition of their degree. In other cases you may not be able to find a degree with the same level of geographic flexibility in your chosen field. In other cases the reputation of your online school choice may not be a relevant factor. For example if you are working in education and simply need a Masters degree in order to move up in the pay scale, it may not matter where you obtained a degree from.

For people who plan to use a college degree as a stepping stone to further their career, Capella probably should not be their default choice. In some cases it might make sense but they should make sure they put a lot of effort into researching other possible options. In particular they need to be careful not to get a degree with a negative return on investment. Not all jobs pay the same and not all degrees will enable you to get a good paying job. Further some employers are going to be very picky about what schools they hire from. Getting a degree from Capella University will not be particularly useful if you’re going into a field where employers traditionally only hire Ivy League graduates.

One final thing to consider about Capella University is the nature of a for-profit institution. Even if you are happy with the quality of their education today, they are run as a for-profit institution unlike most private and state schools. The reputation of your degree in the future may be greatly influenced by their future Board of Directors. You don’t want to get in a situation where your degree is considered worthless based on the actions of business people 10 years from now. This is less likely to happen at a state school that doesn’t have a profit motive and has more a vested interest in their academic reputation then in their ability to give returns to investors.

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