Paige proposes to meet with states on diploma mills

Education Department secretary Roderick Paige wants to convene a meeting for state and federal officials to discuss the best ways of dealing with government employees who obtain bogus credentials from diploma mills.

Paige told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that his agency doesn't have the authority to determine whether a school is a diploma mill. "That decision is best made by appropriate regulators in the state in which the school is located," he wrote in an Oct. 9 letter to the senator.

Several months ago, Collins asked the department to identify and curtail the activities of diploma mills, which offer degrees without requiring extensive academic work. Some organizations supply a degree in exchange for money, while others require an amount of work much less than the college-level coursework normally done to earn a degree.

Paige said assistant secretary Sally Stroup, head of the Office of Postsecondary Education, will convene a meeting of officials from states with laws restricting diploma mills and representatives from Collins' staff and from the Office of Personnel Management to discuss whether and what kind of federal action is needed. They also will discuss how to help government personnel managers identify fraudulent educational credentials.

Collins, who has been pursuing the problem of diploma mills for more than two years, said she was pleased with Paige's response.

"We agree that the first step toward squarely confronting this problem is to sit down in one room with the federal and state agencies that have been working on this issue to map out a coherent strategy," Collins said.

Among the states that have enacted laws restricting the use of degrees from unaccredited schools are Illinois, New Jersey, North Dakota and Oregon, Paige said.

Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization keeps a list of unaccredited institutions whose degrees are not valid in the state. Claiming such a degree for any academic or professional purpose, including applying for a job, is a misdemeanor.

"Good for them?it's actually some forward motion," said Alan Contreras, administrator of the Oregon office, when he learned of Paige's letter.

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