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Education Verification for Employment: A Complete Guide [2023]

education verification

When you are completing background checks on prospective employees, education verification is an integral part of the process.

Some candidates may embellish their educational histories and degrees on their resumes. If you do not verify the education of your candidates, you risk hiring unqualified and untruthful employees that could harm your business and its reputation.

In a survey conducted by ResumeLab, 36% of respondents admitted lying on their resumes. Out of people who admitted lying, only a third were caught.

This tendency to misreport on applications and resumes means that employers who hire people without completing thorough background checks might hire unqualified people and be at risk for claims of negligent hiring.

At iprospectcheck, we conduct education verifications as a part of the background checks we provide to employers in many different industries, including healthcare, transportation, finance, and manufacturing.

To help you understand the education verification process, we’ve written this guide with relevant information on the topic.

Let’s dive in.

What Is Education Verification?

Employers complete education background checks to verify the certifications, training, and educational histories claimed by candidates and to identify potential misrepresentations.

Consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) often complete education background checks on behalf of employers. These services can help to verify whether applicants have earned high school diplomas, vocational certifications, or undergraduate and graduate degrees.

An education background check reveals the dates of attendance, majors, and degrees of candidates at high schools and universities in the U.S. and other countries. These types of checks are not used to verify professional licenses. Instead, those types of background screening services are available through professional license verification.

Education verification services are important because some applicants misrepresent their qualifications, embellish them, or inflate them to try to secure positions for which they are unqualified. Some applicants will claim to have attended schools that they did not or to have earned degrees that they never earned.

Why Should Employers Verify an Applicant’s Education?

Below are several important reasons for why you should include education verification as a part of your background screening during the hiring process.

• Ensure your applicants are fully qualified.

When you hire employees to work at your company, you want to ensure that your new hires are fully qualified and have the education needed to perform the tasks of their jobs.

Education verification helps you to confirm the educational levels of your applicants to help you identify those with the requisite certificates, diplomas, or degrees that meet the minimum standards for your open positions.

• Avoid negligent hiring liability.

When you hire employees, they must have the skills, abilities, and knowledge needed to perform their jobs. If you do not verify that they have the education and qualifications necessary for performing their jobs, you could face a potential negligent hiring lawsuit if they cause harm to others because of incompetence.

Screening applicants before hiring them helps to identify those who might not be right for the jobs for which they have applied.

• Identify fake degrees and institutions.

With the rise of modern technology, diploma mills, which are companies that sell fake credentials and degrees, have proliferated online. It is easy for people to place orders with these companies to claim they attended nonexistent colleges and earned degrees they do not possess.

If you simply call the contact number listed on the resume to confirm the degree reported by a candidate, a diploma mill will use an answering service to provide false verification of the claims made by an applicant.

Education verification services from iprospectcheck help by confirming whether a claimed institution of higher learning actually exists and is accredited by a recognized accrediting body.

It also provides real data about an applicant’s education, allowing you to identify fake degrees and false institutions purchased from diploma mills.

• Verify an applicant has the required certifications, degrees, and licenses.

Positions in certain industries, including health care, education, the legal field, fitness, cosmetology, and others, require that employees have specific types of degrees, certifications, and licenses to be qualified for their jobs.

These requirements are necessary to ensure that they have the skills needed to perform their jobs.

If you hire someone without verifying that he or she actually possesses the degrees, certifications, and licenses required, your company could be exposed to significant liability.

• Identify misrepresentations about degrees conferred or schools attended.

Some applicants make misrepresentations about holding degrees they never earned or attending schools that they did not.

For example, some applicants claim to have attended prestigious schools when they did not try to make themselves appear better on paper. Others claim to have earned degrees that they did not receive.

The goal of employers is to find qualified and trustworthy applicants.

Education verification can help you to quickly identify any misrepresentations an applicant has made about the schools he or she attended and the degrees he or she earned so that you can ensure you only hire honest employees.

• Receive quick and accurate results to make the hiring process faster.

Verifying the educational claims made by an applicant by contacting each institution reported on a resume and waiting for transcripts to confirm their claims can take weeks. If an applicant has left a school off of his or her resume, trying to verify his or her educational background in this way can also return incomplete information.

By requesting education verification from iprospectcheck, you can receive accurate, complete information about a candidate’s education within a matter of hours instead of weeks. Our broad access to reliable databases and advanced research methodologies allow us to return accurate results quickly to our clients.

• Feel confident that your company complies with privacy and data security rules.

Protecting the confidentiality and security of sensitive information about your applicants is critical. At iprospectcheck, we always comply with privacy laws and use encryption to protect your data and the sensitive information you handle about your applicants.

How to Spot a Fake Degree on Your Applicant’s Resume

Spotting a fake degree from a diploma mill is not always straightforward. You might not be able to tell from a resume if the listed educational institution is accredited.

However, there are red flags that you can watch for that could indicate the listed degrees might be fake. Look for the indicators described below.

Degrees Listed Out of Order

People generally progress through education in a specific order, including the following:

  • High school diploma/GED
  • Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree or Doctoral degree

If a candidate claims to hold an advanced degree without a Bachelor’s degree, or if he or she claims to have a Bachelor’s degree but no high school diploma or GED, that could indicate that the claimed credential might be from a diploma mill.

Degree Earned too Fast

Another sign that a claimed degree might be fake is when the applicant earned it in too short of a time.

In general, it will take students from three to four years to earn a Bachelor’s degree. A Master’s degree will take one to two years, and a Ph.D. normally takes four or more years.

If an applicant claims to have earned a degree in a much shorter time or lists several degrees earned during the same year, you should take a closer look.

Degree From a Geographically Distant School

While there are many accredited online degree-seeking programs, you will still want to dig further when an applicant claims to have earned a degree at an institution located far from where he or she works or lives.

You can check to see whether the institution is accredited. If it is not, the credential might have been purchased from a diploma mill.

Similarly Named Schools

If an applicant claims to hold a degree from an institution with a name that is similar to a well-known university in a different state, you should check further. There are some legitimate, accredited institutions that have similar names to prestigious institutions.

For example, Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri sometimes gets confused with Columbia University in New York but is not nearly as prestigious. However, it is regionally accredited. Some diploma mills issue false documents with names that are similar to well-known institutions but do not exist and are not accredited.

You should also investigate further if an applicant claims to hold a degree from an institution in a foreign country. While this might be challenging, you should definitely investigate further if an applicant claims to hold a degree from an institution in a country in which he or she has not lived.

What Does an Education Background Check Show?

Education background checks will show you whether the claims that an applicant has made about his or her educational history and qualifications are true.

Your education background checks can help you to verify the claims your candidates have made on their resumes or applications and to identify misrepresentations before you make a hiring decision.

This will include a verification of the schools a candidate attended, the dates when they attended different schools, and any certificates or degrees that they earned.

In some cases, an education background check might also show the candidate’s major and any honors that he or she received.

Do education verifications show GPA?

Consumer reporting agencies typically do not include GPA information on the education background checks that they provide.

If the positions for which you are hiring require GPA information, you should consider asking your candidates to supply official transcripts to verify their GPAs.

The FCRA and education verifications

The Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA is a federal law that limits the types of information that can be provided by CRAs to employers.

While this law limits the reporting ability of CRAs for providing information about certain convictions, judgments, arrests, and other similar information, it does not limit the reporting of educational history information.

For example, the FCRA restricts CRAs from reporting liens, judgments, and arrest records that are older than seven years for most candidates other than jobs with salaries of $75,000 or more.

However, this time limitation does not apply to an applicant’s educational history. Your education background check can cover as many years of a candidate’s life as needed.

How Do Employers Verify Education?

1. Using the National Student Clearinghouse

Some employers choose to use the National Student Clearinghouse to verify their candidates’ educational backgrounds. This service allows employers to confirm an applicant’s current enrollment, degrees conferred and attendance dates at different schools, any high school diplomas awarded, and any professional certifications earned.

However, using the National Student Clearinghouse comes with several drawbacks.

It can be difficult to get an account to allow you to verify your applicants’ educational histories. The National Student Clearinghouse can audit your procedures and reserves the right to do so, and the process for undergoing an audit is very time-consuming.

Another drawback is that some applicants forget the schools they attended because some university names are very similar. If you submit this type of info to the Clearinghouse, the information you receive will not be accurate. When you work with iprospectcheck, we can talk to the candidate to clear up any confusion.

Unlike iprospectcheck, using the National Student Clearinghouse is not a hands-off solution. Instead, you will have to be involved throughout the education verification process.

Using iprospectcheck instead of the National Student Clearinghouse is much less difficult than trying to set up an account with the Clearinghouse. Our process is straightforward and hassle-free.

As an employer, it is important to check an applicant’s claimed academic credentials even if he or she claims to have earned a degree from a well-known institution. Some prospective candidates might be likelier to falsify their educational attainment instead of their employment history because many employers are less likely to complete education verification than employment verification.

2. DIY Education Verification

If you decide to try to verify an applicant’s credentials on your own, the process can be lengthy as you will need to complete the following steps:

• Contact the claimed educational institution.

You can submit a request to the registrar at the claimed educational institution to confirm an applicant’s attendance dates, major, and any degrees that were conferred. If you get permission from the applicant, you can also request a certified transcript.

However, you should not stop there.

Some diploma mills offer verification services at an added cost to their customers. While someone might answer the phone, answer your questions, and send you a transcript, that does not mean the school is real.

• Research the institution.

If you are unfamiliar with the school, you should research it online. You will want to check to see if the institution is accredited by a recognized accrediting agency.

Universities and colleges that are accredited have to go through a rigorous review to demonstrate their educational programs’ quality.

While some diploma mills claim to be accredited, they use bogus agencies to provide their accreditation. Do not take a claim of accreditation at face value. Instead, you can look up an institution on the U.S. Department of Education’s website to check its accreditation status.

You can also check to see if an accrediting body is legitimate on the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

• Analyze the college’s website.

Some diploma mills have .edu addresses and polished-looking websites. However, that does not guarantee that an educational institution is legitimate. You can still look at a school’s website to look for several signs that it is a diploma mill.

If the school charges tuition by degree instead of by semester, course, or credit, it is likely not a legitimate institution. Similarly, if the college does not have specific degree requirements or has very few, it is unlikely to be legitimate. Finally, look for whether the school offers degrees based on life or work experience or if it is new or has changed its name recently.

• Check lists of diploma mills.

Diploma mills are opened all the time, meaning there is not a comprehensive list available online. However, you can contact the registrar at a college or university in your area to ask if that school would accept credits transferred from the claimed institution.

• Ask the candidate to provide proof of accreditation and his or her degree.

If you are unable to find sufficient information from accreditation sites and the claimed institution, ask your job candidate to provide you with the institution’s accreditation and a certified transcript.

The candidate should ask the school to send the transcript directly to your company instead of the applicant hand-delivering it. You can then check this information against the list of accrediting bodies and the claims your applicant has made.

3. Partnering with a 3rd Party Background Check Provider

The easiest approach to verifying the education of an applicant is to partner with a third-party background check provider like iprospectcheck. We are able to perform education verification much faster than it might take you on your own and can return the information to you in as little as a few hours. We can also verify the legitimacy of your applicant’s claimed education history.

To do so, you will need to do the following:

  • Notify the applicant that you intend to complete a pre-employment background check.
  • Get the applicant’s signed consent to perform the background check.
  • Get the applicant’s full name that he or she graduated under as well as his or her current full name.
  • Get the educational institution’s name and address.
  • Get the dates of attendance.
  • Ask for the degree field and the type of degree.

After you have gathered this information, you can order education verification through iprospectcheck. We will verify the degrees and credentials your applicant has claimed by checking established, reliable databases and checking with the institutions.

How Can I Verify an Applicant’s International Education?

The process iprospectcheck uses to verify an applicant’s international educational background is similar to what is used to verify a candidate’s educational history at schools and universities in the U.S.

We can check the educational records of applicants who have earned degrees at colleges and universities in more than 100 countries.

Other providers might not have access to the same types of databases that iprospectcheck uses to verify records from hundreds of countries. Working with iprospectcheck can give you the confidence that a candidate’s claimed international educational qualifications are accurate and qualify him or her for the job.

How Long Does Education Verification Take?

How long it might take for you to complete an education verification check will depend on the method you use.

If you try to do it yourself by contacting each institution that the applicant has claimed to have attended, the process can take a long time. Trying to complete an educational background check on your own might also leave you with incomplete information if an applicant has failed to list some institutions on his or her resume. Sending requests to high schools, colleges, and universities and waiting for their responses can take weeks.

When you work with iprospectcheck, we can return education background checks in as little as two to four days. Because of our access to education databases and our use of cutting-edge technology, we can return results much faster than other providers.

How Far Back Do Education Background Checks Go?

As previously mentioned, the FCRA does not place time restrictions on how far back an education background check can go. A CRA can check the educational qualifications of an applicant across his or her entire lifetime. Working with iprospectcheck to complete background checks can help you to ensure that the reports you receive comply with all relevant regulations and rules in the area in which you live and work.

What are the Legalities Around Education Verification?

When an employer hires a CRA to complete background checks, all federal and state laws and regulations must be strictly followed when the information is used to make hiring decisions. Employers must be aware of the requirements under the FCRA and regulations enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces the FCRA. Under this law, employers must notify applicants that they will conduct background checks. They must also obtain consent from each applicant before conducting background checks. If you receive adverse information in a background check report that could impact your hiring decision, you also must comply with the adverse action process under the FCRA.

The EEOC enforces federal anti-discrimination laws. These laws prohibit actions that could have a disparate impact on members of certain protected groups. When you conduct background checks, you should consistently perform them on every applicant regardless of race, national origin, religion, gender, color, disability, and other protected characteristics. Depending on the location in which you are hiring, there also may be local laws that you will need to follow.

You need to make sure that you comply with all of the local, state, and federal laws. At the same time, hiring someone who falsely claims to possess certain educational qualifications can place your company at significant risk of reputational harm and potential liability.

Working with a provider like iprospectcheck can help you to conduct background checks that fully comply with the relevant laws and regulations.

How Do I Choose the Best Education & Degree Verification Service for My Company?

When you use a third-party background check provider to complete education and degree verification services, it is important for you to choose a reputable provider that fully complies with all relevant laws.

Here are some tips for choosing the right company to conduct education and degree verifications.

1. Legal Compliance

Third-party consumer reporting agencies that perform education verification services must comply with the mandates of the Fair Credit Reporting Act when they gather and report information about applicants to employers.

Before you can conduct an education background check, you must first notify the applicant in writing of your intention and secure his or her written permission.

If you receive adverse information on the background check report, you must then complete the adverse action process before making a final decision not to hire the applicant.

Some third-party providers do not follow the FCRA and other relevant privacy laws when they complete education and degree verification services. They also might return information that is inaccurate, outdated, and unreliable.

The best approach is to work with a reliable, legally-compliant provider like iprospectcheck. We remain up-to-date with all relevant laws and always comply with the FCRA.

When you partner with us, you can feel confident that the education and degree information you receive is accurate, up-to-date, reliable, and legally compliant.

2. Returns Comprehensive, Accurate Reports

The provider you choose should also have the resources and skills needed to return comprehensive education verification reports. It should have access to reliable databases to verify the attendance dates, schools, and degrees, diplomas, or certificates earned.

Your provider should also be able to confirm the accreditation of each institution and identify diploma mills.

3. Speed of Turnaround Times

While some online vendors promise free reports instantly, they often do not comply with relevant laws and regulations and frequently provide inaccurate, unreliable, and out-of-date information. Relying on these types of vendors can expose you to liability.

Trying to perform education verifications on your own in a do-it-yourself approach can take weeks. With today’s competitive labor market, most employers cannot afford to wait for weeks to make hiring decisions.

Because of our extensive access to reliable databases and our advanced technology, we can return reports in as little as a few hours to our clients.

4. Experience with and Knowledge of Your Industry

Certain industries have strict regulations they must follow. Before you hire a background check provider to conduct education verification services, you should confirm that they are familiar with your industry and its applicable regulations.

5. Protection of Sensitive Data

When you complete education verifications through a third-party CRA, it is critical that the company you choose has safeguards in place to protect the privacy and security of your critical data.

Ask about the safeguards any company you consider has in place to encrypt sensitive data and anonymize personally-identifying information.

6. Good Reputation

Finally, the provider you choose should have a good reputation because that will indicate its track record. Check online reviews to see the experiences others have had when working with the vendor.

iprospectcheck: Your Trusted Partner for Fast, Accurate, Compliant Education Verification Services

Verifying the educational histories and qualifications of your prospective employees is an important part of ensuring that you hire the right people.

When you complete an education verification check with iprospectcheck, you can receive complete and reliable information about your candidates’ claimed levels of education, degrees, diplomas, and certifications.

At iprospectcheck, our education and employment background checks comply with all relevant laws. Partnering with us can provide you with the knowledge that you are receiving accurate and reliable information about each of the employees that you hire.

To learn more about the education verification services we provide, contact us today to receive a free consultation.

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.