Senator wants GAO to examine 'coin-operated college' reimbursements

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is revisiting the issue of so-called diploma mills, asking a federal investigative agency to determine if government employees have been getting tuition reimbursement for credentials received from unaccredited organizations.

Collins, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, requested June 27 that the General Accounting Office investigate the issue of tuition reimbursement.

"Given the recent news about diploma mills, I have asked the GAO to conduct an investigation into whether federal funds have been used to pay for these 'degrees,' " Collins said in a statement.

At Collins' requests, GAO in 2002 did two investigations on the widespread use of diploma mills. The first investigation examined how easy it is to purchase a degree from an unaccredited school. The second demonstrated how easily a fake academic program could get student loans from the Department of Education.

"The investigation will follow up on work the GAO has previously completed on diploma mills at my request, and reflects the need to determine the prevalence of this practice and whether steps need to be taken to shut down these coin-operated colleges." Collins' statement said.

For example, a California school included on Oregon's list of diploma mills includes in its literature a list of more than a dozen federal agencies that either paid tuition or reimbursed employees their expenses, according to research already under way by Post Newsweek Tech Media.

Post Newsweek Tech Media reported last month that Laura Callahan, senior director in Homeland Security's chief information officer's office, obtained her doctorate from Hamilton University, an unaccredited, unlicensed entity in Evanston, Wyo. Hamilton University requires a single at-home test and a 2,000 word "thesis" before awarding a doctoral degree. The remaining course requirements are satisfied with credit for life and work experience.

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