Collins urges OPM to nix diploma mill degrees

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairwoman Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) today urged the Office of Personnel Management to "close a legal loophole that enables federal employees to use federal funds to pay for coursework from diploma mills," according to a statement by her office.

Collins wrote to OPM director Kay Coles James, "I would urge you to issue regulations that would prevent a federal agency from underwriting a diploma mill degree by paying for imagined or substandard coursework. Diploma mill credentials devalue the legitimate degrees earned by millions of individuals through hard work, persistence and achievement."

An amendment to the Homeland Security Act "authorizes an agency to pay for the costs of academic degree training for an employee only from an accredited college or university," Collins wrote. "It does not address whether an agency may pay for courses from an unaccredited institution, including a diploma mill. Nor am I aware of any federal regulation that would prevent public funds for being used to pay for diploma mill 'coursework.'"

Collins' statement noted that diploma mills' promotional materials suggest that federal agencies may reimburse their employees for coursework completed to obtain the bogus degrees.

The senator praised James for working to resolve the problem. She cited James' plan to hold seminars next month for federal human resources officials on how to verify educational credentials. "I applaud your efforts and would encourage you to expand them," Collins wrote.

She cited her committee's past work in the area of diploma mill degrees, as well as a General Accounting Office investigation that she and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) have jointly requested.

The GAO investigation was prompted by news?first reported in Washington Technology and Government Computer News?that Laura Callahan, a senior director in the Homeland Security Department's CIO office, obtained her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Hamilton University in Wyoming, an unaccredited school that requires scant academic work.

"The director has not seen the letter," an OPM spokesman said. "We work very closely with Sen. Collins, and we have for a long time on this and other issues. It is obviously an important issue and we look forward to receiving the letter."

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