The University of District Columbia gave three professors raises when they received Ph.D.s. That's standard in academia -- unless the degrees are worthless.

UDC professors Angelyn Flowers, Sinclair Jeter and Maragaret Moore received their Ph.D.s from Commonwealth Open University -- a school that, according to Fox 5, is non-accredited, accepts most people to its online program without verifying backgrounds and doles out advanced diplomas in exchange for academic requirements that barely scratch the surface of accredited programs' requirements.

"Diploma mills" hand out phony degrees for cash, and Fox 5 reports that COU is part of a billion-dollar industry that distributes an estimated 200,000 fake degrees annually. Online Education Database indicates that the industry is worth at least between $200 to $500 million.

While the average Ph.D. candidate will spend tens of thousands to earn a degree, a Ph.D. from COU costs just under $3,500.

Fox 5's Sherri Ly demonstrated how easily a person can enter COU's Ph.D. program. She writes about how she applied to COU by lying that she was a history teacher with 15 years of experience. One online form and no background check later, and she was accepted to the program.

"Without requiring transcripts or proof of work, Commonwealth accepted me into its Ph.D. program," Ly said. "I was told all I needed to complete was a 50-page report, and of course, pay. I didn't enroll, but they made it seem like a piece of cake."

UDC Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Ken Bain expressed his concerns in a statement to Fox 5 about the professors' degrees from COU. He said the university plans to investigate the matter.

"As far as the integrity of the university, when we look to hire a professor, we look to the totality of the individual," said Alan Etter, vice president of university relations and public affairs in an interview with Fox 5. [The professors] have good track records; they're good professors; [they've] demonstrated an ability to lift students up."

USA Today reported in 2003 on the dangers of professionals toting around fake degrees that they've used to gain positions of power. For example, a doctor with a slew of degrees plastering his walls from degree mills is now serving time for medical malpractice after duping a woman into taking advice on her daughter's health that ultimately took her life.

World Education Services offers a webpage with an extensive listing of articles dedicated to helping students identify and avoid diploma mills.

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