Misadventures in HR (an hilarious blog about… HR) mentioned Lorenz University, a degree mill. I’d never heard of a degree mill before, so I wanted to see how legit it looked from a computer scientist’s point of view.
Every site on the internet has to register contact information the king of the internet, so you can see who’s behind a website. Anyone can look up this info by running “whois domain” on their computer. For example, here are some legit universities’ info:
$ whois nyu.edu Registrant: New York University ITS Communications Operations Services 7 East 12th Street, 5th Floor New York, NY 10003 UNITED STATES $ whois mit.edu Registrant: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA 02139 UNITED STATES $ whois ufl.edu Registrant: University of Florida Computing and Network Services Space Sciences Research Building Gainesville, FL 32611-2050 UNITED STATES
Most businesses, higher learning institutions, and pretty much any large, legitimate site has their actual address listed there. What does Lorenz U have?
$ whois lorenzuniversity.com Registrant: Domains by Proxy, Inc. DomainsByProxy.com 15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353 Scottsdale, Arizona 85260 United States
Domains by Proxy is a service where you can pay them to keep your contact info a secret. It’s good for privacy, but it’s a bit unusual for a university.
Also, protip: most universities are not .com addresses.
At first glance, Lorenz University seem to have some good proof that they’re a valid, accredited institution:
Lorenz University holds valid accreditation from reputable accrediting agencies including IAAFOE and ACTDE. These agencies have clearly mentioned on their official websites that Lorenz University is fully approved by their evaluation committee.
But wait, I’ve never heard of the IAAFOE or the ACTDE. A quick Google search turns up the International Accreditation Association for Online Eduction and the Accreditation Council for Distance Education.
Okay, Lorenz University is accredited by someone, but let’s take a look at who.
$ whois iaafoe.org Registrant Name:Registration Private Registrant Organization:Domains by Proxy, Inc. Registrant Street1:DomainsByProxy.com Registrant Street2:15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353 Registrant Street3: Registrant City:Scottsdale Registrant State/Province:Arizona Registrant Postal Code:85260 Registrant Country:US
Huh, Domains by Proxy. Again.
$ whois actde.org Registrant Name:Registration Private Registrant Organization:Domains by Proxy, Inc. Registrant Street1:DomainsByProxy.com Registrant Street2:15111 N. Hayden Rd., Ste 160, PMB 353 Registrant Street3: Registrant City:Scottsdale Registrant State/Province:Arizona Registrant Postal Code:85260 Registrant Country:US
And again! What are the chances?!
Now, let’s take a closer look at these accreditation sites. I used wget to download the entirety of both sites (somehow, I had the feeling that they wouldn’t be that big). Indeed, one site was 10 files and the other was 11:
$ wget -r http://iaafoe.org/ $ wget -r http://actde.org/
Looking at these files, we can see certain similarities:
$ ls actde.org/ ACTDE CSS index.asp index.html PDF robots.txt $ ls iaafoe.org/ IAAFOE index.asp index.html PDF robots.txt $ $ # is robots.txt non-trivial? $ wc -l iaafoe.org/robots.txt 30 iaafoe.org/robots.txt $ diff -s iaafoe.org/robots.txt actde.org/robots.txt Files iaafoe.org/robots.txt and actde.org/robots.txt are identical
Also, there’s a funny “Members Login” link on the ACTDE site that—whoops—isn’t actually a link. How hard is it to make a login page that doesn’t log anyone in?
Lorenz University seems to have “accredited” themselves by creating two accreditation websites, and are trying to take advantage of people who think this will help them get a job.
What I’m really curious about is if they’ll accredit other bullshit. The accreditation sites seem to be non-interactive, and don’t have any way of taking money.
P.S. As long as I’m just picking on them… Lorenz University also bought the site lorenzuniversityscam.com, to defend against people calling them a scam. The scam site has a link, “Click here[sic] to visit the official website of Lorenz University and find out all the details about Lorenz University and the application process to get an accredited degrees.” They misspelled “university” in a link to their own site.
Edit: the Hacker News thread on this post has some interesting and informative comments.