In 2004, Colby Nolan graduated with a masters of business administration (MBA) from Trinity Southern University in Texas. He had a 3.5 grade point average, according to his official transcript, making him out to be a very strong student. But Trinity Southern did not know much about Colby. Trinity Southern, a correspondence school of sorts, only asked about Mr. Nolan’s work experience, awarding him an MBA based on his life’s experiences. He had worked a paper route, babysat, and once had a job at a fast food joint, the school learned. They didn’t care that Nolan, a lifelong Pennsylvania resident, only wanted a bachelor’s degree. They probably didn’t care that his entire résumé was a lie. And the school most likely never knew that Colby was only six years old at the time. Because while any of this should have precluded Trinity Southern from giving this particular student an master’s degree, one other fact trumps them all.

Colby Nolan was a cat.




Yes, an actual house cat — owned, in this case, by a deputy attorney general in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. As the Associated Press reported, the Pennsylvania AG’s office was running a sting operation. Trinity Southern was widely regarded as a “degree mill,” a faux educational institution which sold diplomas without actually educating the customers. For $299, Trinity Southern would give you a bachelor’s degree; for $100 more, qualified (whatever that meant) candidates could receive an executive MBA. To demonstrate the incredibly lax (to say the least) standards of the so-called University, the Pennsylvania authorities concocted a scheme to get Colby the cat into college. It worked, and Colby earned his degree (and for an extra $99, his owner was able to get a copy of his transcript). The owners of Trinity Southern were fined and the business was shut down.

While Colby’s route to higher education may seem unique, it isn’t. He isn’t the only animal to receive a diploma — far from it. In 2007, Sonny, a dog, obtained a medical degree from Ashwood University, an online diploma mill. According to the Toronto Star, Sonny’s life experience earned him that degree; specifically, his application listed his “significant proctology experience sniffing other dogs’ bums.” Then there was Oreo C. Collins, a tuxedo cat who received a high school degree in 2009. And way back in 1984, there was Sassafras Herbert, the poodle with a diploma from the serious-sounding American Association of Nutrition and Dietary Consultants. It cost fifty dollars.

Wikipedia has a list of even more animals with higher educations, here.

Bonus fact: One of the more famous degree mills in recent history was Sequoia University, located in Los Angeles. It is best known for issuing a Ph.D. to L. Ron Hubbard, author of Dianetics and founder of Scientology. Hubbard didn’t buy himself the Ph.D., though. He bought the whole school, and bestowed the degree upon himself.

From the ArchivesThe Pride of Georgia Tech: Another person (to use the term very loosely) who earned a degree, but shouldn’t have.

Related: Your very own Certificate of Excellence. Makes a great gift for a dog or cat, maybe? (Okay, most people buy it because they want the frame.)