Diploma mills: Davis asks about eligibility standards

A high-ranking House committee chairman wants to know how the Education Department determines a school's eligibility for federal financial aid, and if those standards might be of use to sift out degrees from unaccredited schools.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, sent a letter Feb. 9 to Education Secretary Roderick Paige with questions about how the department sets and applies these standards.

The request stems from the General Accounting Office investigation into federal employees use of inflated academic credentials on their resumes. Davis and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, requested the GAO investigation.

The GAO report is expected in March. Both Davis and Collins want to schedule a hearing soon after.

"As we continue to investigate the scope of this problem across the federal government, we also need to discuss what actions can be taken to address diploma mill use in the near and long term," said David Marin, deputy staff director for Davis' committee. "It's clear that agencies lack consistent standards for identifying diploma mills for the purposes of making hiring and promotion decisions."

The Education Department may create a master list of accredited schools, to be Web-accessible for students and employers. However, Marin said such a list would not be a cure-all for the problem.

The standards used to measure an institution's eligibility for financial aid might be useful as the government moves "toward crafting a nationwide personnel policy on diploma mills," he said.

The government may implement changes to address its employees, Marin said, but "[we] certainly hope our inquiry prompts a voluntary private-sector review as well."

The questions Davis posed to the Education Department include:

  • How the agency determines that an institution offers bona-fide courses for degrees

  • How does it choose accrediting organizations

  • How can its expertise assist federal managers in identifying a fraudulent degree.

  • Davis has asked for a response by Feb. 20.

    Scrutiny of diploma-mill degrees was sparked last summer when Washington Technology and Government Computer News reported that a high-ranking IT professional in the Homeland Security Department had purchased her three degrees from a diploma mill in Wyoming. The magazines later turned up dozens of people whose degrees came from unaccredited institutions.

    The news led to the suspension with pay of Laura Callahan, the DHS deputy chief information officer. The Office of Personnel Management ordered the review of employees' academic credentials, and the GAO began a probe.

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