An introduction to the economics of fake degrees

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14 January 2014

This paper critiques the multifarious ways whereby academic qualifications may be falsified in the international marketplace. The objectives are fourfold: (1) defining the main terms used such as fake degrees and diploma mills; (2) providing a brief history of fake degrees and identifying the factors that explain their recent development; (3) developing a theoretical framework to analyze fake degrees; and (4) exploring the costs and benefits of this activity and its net impact on a given society. Degrees serve instrumental and ceremonial purposes. It is argued that degree holders may be considered as members of a club. They confer to their holders excludable but non-rival property rights such as abilities, signaling and status. The paper contends that holders of fake degrees can be considered as “free riders” on these property rights, especially the status tied to legitimate degrees.