Diploma mills churn controversy

Rep. Tom Davis

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 useful in sifting 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 questioning how the department sets and applies these standards.

The request stems from a 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 Web-accessible list of accredited schools for students and employers. But such a list would not be a cure-all, Marin said.

Scrutiny of diploma-mill degrees was sparked last summer when Washington Technology and Government Computer News reported that Laura Callahan, deputy chief information officer in the Homeland Security Department, had obtained her three degrees from a diploma mill in Wyoming. The department suspended Callahan with pay following the report.

The magazines later turned up dozens of people whose degrees came from unaccredited institutions. The Office of Personnel Management subsequently ordered the review of employees' academic credentials, and the GAO began a probe.

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