Diploma-mill abuse hearings open Pandora's box

Robert Cramer of the General Accounting Office spoke at the diploma-mill hearings with the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Henrik G. de Gyor

General Accounting Office investigators testified May 11 that they have uncovered more than $150,000 in federal payments to unaccredited schools on behalf of federal employees, and that the true extent of improper payments likely is much larger.

Robert Cramer, managing director of GAO's Office of Special Investigations, told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that his agency uncovered $169,470 in federal payments to unaccredited schools.

In looking at only five schools, GAO investigators found that the federal government had paid for about 70 federal employees to enroll in diploma mills and other unaccredited institutions.

"We believe that this number understates the number of federal employees at these agencies who have such degrees," Cramer said.

Administrative reforms are under way in the Education Department, which is compiling a list of accredited schools, and the Office of Personnel Management, which is adjusting federal personnel forms to highlight bogus credentials.

But the efforts do not address a gray area of the issue: bona fide schools that aren't accredited.

"I think the Education Department is reluctant to assess the quality" of nonaccredited schools, committee chairman Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said after the hearings. "Right now, it relies on the independent accreditation process. We are going to look at that. It seems to me that the [Education] Department is the logical agency to take the lead."

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