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Guide to Education Verification for Employment

Patrick Proctor
Patrick Proctor

Understanding how education verification works and what it can do for your business will make your team stronger and better prepared for the future.

  • Verifying a candidate’s education helps confirm the background, knowledge and accuracy of other related data.
  • Although the process can take extra time to complete, there are certain jobs where it is essential that education, or professional certification or licensure, has been legally completed and/or remains compliant and up to date.
  • Knowing what to focus on during an education verification can help speed the process along and make it easier to process the information garnered from the verification check.
  • This article is for business owners and hiring managers who want to learn more about the pre-employment education verification process.

If your organization desires to hire verified and qualified candidates, then verification of all educational, certified, and/or licensure claims from the candidate should be part of the background check process. Taking these steps helps to make sure your new employees have the qualifications you require for the job you are hiring for, which will help ensure a bright future for your team, brand and business.

What is education verification?

Although education verification can look a lot of different ways, the overall process refers to the verification of a candidate's educational, certification, and/or licensure-related claims. Education verification processes can be conducted for any level of education including high school, and GED equivalency exams, colleges, universities, and professional certifications or licenses. These background checks can include finding information not only on whether someone attended and graduated from the schools they claim, but what grades they received within certain topics of study that may be important within certain vocational fields.

Most of the time, education verification is referring to is education earned from colleges and universities. In almost all cases the college/university will require a written release from the candidate before releasing records or an official transcript.

Education verification check services

As part of your pre-employment background checks, you can have a screening service conduct education verification checks for you. Prices for this part of a background check typically range from $25 to $75. The best background check services will conduct the entire pre-employment screening for you all at once. Among the services business.com recommends as being the best for small businesses include:

When verifying a potential hire's past education, companies need candidates to provide their name, date of birth, and Social Security Number. Whether you are utilizing a background check service or not, it is best to provide the candidate with what the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows and requires of businesses.

Additionally, there are two things to be mindful of when it comes to legal requirements of companies that conduct educational verification background checks:

  • FCRA requirements: The FCRA requires all employers to inform the candidate that they are running the background check and to receive written consent from the candidate prior to doing so. In addition, if you do not hire the candidate and the reason for not doing so is related in full or in part to the data points received during the background check process, the employer is required to share the results with the candidate so they are fully aware, but also so they can check to see if there is a discrepancy within the reporting. If this is the case, the FCRA has an adverse action process that must be followed. 

Did You Know?Did You Know?: The FCRA requires by law that if employers do utilize a third party for this service, the employer needs to inform the candidate in writing of all FCRA related rights.

  • EEOC requirements: The S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires that there be no discrimination, intended or otherwise, during the review process. Employers should be consistent in how their program of conducting background checks is executed. All candidates should receive the same type of review, including methods used, turnaround time, etc. Note that local laws could also come into play based on both the locations the employer is hiring and where the candidate is located.

 

Editor's note: Looking for the right employee background check service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What to look for in an education verification

Education verification background checks verify many different types of data points. The information received depends on the type of educational institution it is, how long ago the degree was awarded, and the document retention and sharing policies of the institution being contacted.

Some of the more common pieces of information you want to try to acquire during this process include:

  • Where the candidate went to school
  • The location of the institution and its certification confirmation (if desired)
  • Dates of attendance, including start and graduation dates (if completed)
  • Type of degree obtained
  • Specific major
  • Grades received in certain courses
  • Overall GPA

Although there may be other data points that employers seek during these verification exercises, much of the time the noted information above will provide a solid understanding and confirmation of the candidate you are considering hiring.

Employers are seeking to achieve two primary goals in this background check process. First, they want to ensure that the candidate has all the required education that is required for a particular job. Second, the employer simply wants to determine if they are dealing with an honest, truthful individual that can be trusted and relied upon. Is the information they provided on their resume and application accurate?

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Most of the time, the data that is needed to confirm the legitimacy of the candidate consists of knowing where the candidate went to school, its location, time of attendance and graduation, degree(s) awarded, major (or area of focus), GPA, and so on.

 

Why employers should verify education during the hiring process

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), bogus or fake claims of degrees or other related credentials (such as certifications and licensures) can compromise an organization’s credibility. Worse, the risk ladened-danger of placing an unqualified person in a position of responsibility could leave your organization liable if the employee's actions harm someone, are so negligent that it yields a lawsuit, or could irreparably damage a relationship with a customer or client.

 

There are additional reasons, and ways, to assess a candidate’s education, certifications, and licenses. If there are unconfirmed, or false claims made of degrees, etc., then there may be other concerns not yet uncovered regarding your candidate that should slow the process down. Here are some additional red flags that we recommend being the lookout for:

  • Degrees that are out of sequence.The degrees provided by a candidate should follow the proper progression that most degrees are earned. For example, a high school degree should be followed by a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree would then be followed by a master's, doctoral or other advanced degrees. If you see these degrees out of order, or notice an overlap between two, you should do some additional investigation.
  • Abbreviated degree timelines. In most cases, authentic certified degrees take a certain length of time to earn. Undergraduate degrees are generally earned in three to five years, while a master's degree can be completed in one or two years. Degrees earned in a noticeably brief period, or several degrees listed for the same year, are red flags that should be looked into.
  • Schools and previous job locations not matching up. If a candidate worked full-time while attending school, check the locations of the job to ensure they mesh with where the location of school the potential hire was attending. If the candidate did not live in the same geographical region as the school, check to see if the degree is from an accredited distance learning institution. If the degree is not from a legitimate online institution, the degree may be from a "diploma mill.' Degrees from these schools are not legitimate and should not be accepted as proof of qualified education.
  • Sound-alike school names.The FTC reports that some diploma mills utilize names for their institution that sound or look like those of well-known colleges or universities. If the institution has a name similar to a well-known school, but is located in a different state, thoroughly check its validity.
  • Foreign or international institutions. Should your organization come across a degree from an institution with a prestigious-sounding foreign name, the same verification process should take place. At times, your organization may have to put additional effort into verifying the legitimacy of an international institution. Researching the legitimacy of foreign schools can sometimes be a challenge, but it is worth looking into, as this is a common method used by candidates looking to falsely claim that they possess the proper qualifications.

TipTip: Taking time to verify degrees and certifications helps avoid liability, bad hires and embarrassment. There are fake degrees, fake institutions, and several ways to present illegitimate qualifications that should be followed up on, even if these processes require additional effort and time.

Why employers would not verify education

Some employers don't make a practice of education or licensure verification. Some of the most common reasons why employers do not regularly run education verifications have to do with trust in the process. Some employers feel the process takes too long. The fact is, by the time a company gets around to extending a job offer, they want to get the show on the road (e.g., get the candidate hired and working ASAP). Waiting another week may seem unacceptable to the hiring manager.

Other reasons for such reservation have more to do with the legitimacy of the process itself. Some employers feel that the information can be inaccurate, or incomplete even when fees are paid, and time is allowed for. Other employers feel that some educational data is mostly irrelevant and does not reflect the quality of the candidate. For example, if the candidate went to college 25 years ago, employers care less about if the candidate has a four-year degree. Their two plus decades of work experience may mean more. 

How to verify a candidate's educational background

Checking on a candidate's education, certification or licenses is an important step in the hiring process, and, although it is not difficult, it can take some effort and time. The process that we layout is straightforward, but important in that each step needs to take place before moving forward to the next.

Step 1: Request written information from the candidate. Do not run out and check on what the candidate has told you or where you think the candidate went to school. Acquiring written information provided from the candidate before proceeding is essential. 

Step 2: Obtain a signed release. Once you have the information, we recommend that you acquire a written release from the candidate to call on the reported information. Many, if not all, institutions will require a written approval or release prior to providing an official transcript if one is needed or desired.  

Step 3: Contact the school/institution. Most college registrars will confirm dates of attendance and/or graduation, certificates and/or degrees awarded, majors, GPA, etc., upon request. If the candidate gives written permission, as noted above, the institution may also provide a certified academic transcript. 

Look online for the college’s registrar’s contact information. Do not use the registrar's contact information the candidate may have included. Do not take any phone numbers or email addresses from the candidate who could easily refer you to a buddy who could give an officially sounding, but fake confirmation of data reported.

Step 4: Conduct additional online research. Confirm that the school is accredited by a federally recognized agency. The FTC notes that colleges and universities accredited by legitimate accreditation agencies typically undergo a rigorous review process, not only of their programs, but admissions processes, graduation rates, materials used, etc. Many diploma mills claim to be “accredited,” but the accreditation mat be from a fake, yet official-sounding, agency.

Step 5: Record retention practices. Regardless of whether you hire the candidate, it is important to manage the personal information acquired confidentially. If you hire the candidate, ensure that this information is placed in their HR employee file. If you end up not hiring the candidate, for whatever reason, ensure that the information is placed in a recruitment file.

 

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Patrick Proctor
Patrick Proctor
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Patrick Proctor, SHRM-SCP, is certified as a senior professional in human resources. His more than 15 years of executive level leadership inform his work on inclusive and engaging workplace culture, as well as educating senior leadership teams about human capital management and organizational strategy. Patrick has written dozens of articles on global business, human resources operations, management and leadership, business technology, risk management, and continuity planning