WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Governmental Affairs Committee staff today met with representatives from state and federal agencies in a first-ever “diploma mill summit” to coordinate efforts to crack down on the use of fake degrees to obtain employment or promotions. Education Secretary Rod Paige agreed to host the summit in response to a request made by Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) last year.
“Phony degrees devalue the legitimate credentials earned by millions of individuals through hard work, persistence and achievement. Such degrees also may pose security and other risks by helping unqualified individuals secure sensitive positions, and that’s a risk we can’t afford to take,” said Senator Collins. “This meeting is an unprecedented and positive step toward cracking down on the widespread abuse of these fake degrees.”
Committee staff met with representatives from the Department of Education, the Office of Personnel Management, the General Accounting Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission, and officials from Oregon, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Illinois, whose states have passed laws cracking down on diploma mills. At the end of the daylong meeting, representatives agreed that the Department of Education should explore the possibility of creating an authoritative list of accredited institutions, easily accessible over the Internet. Senator Collins sent a letter to Secretary Paige today urging his agency to immediately begin creating such a list.
“A list of accredited institutions that could easily be pulled up and searched on the Web would be of tremendous value to employers, prospective students, and parents,” said Senator Collins. “We could rest assured that schools on the list are legitimate, and would be on notice that schools not listed require additional diligence.”
Senator Collins has been working for more than two years to expose the problems associated with diploma mill degrees. In July 2003, Senator Collins asked the GAO to investigate the use of “diploma mill” degrees to obtain positions and promotions with the federal government and whether those degrees were paid for with federal funds. The Committee is considering holding hearings on the GAO report and diploma mills in the coming months.
The text of Senator Collins’ letter to Secretary Paige appears below.
January 15, 2004
The Honorable Roderick R. Paige
Secretary of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20202-1510
Dear Secretary Paige:
I would like to thank you for responding so effectively to my earlier request for help in identifying diploma mills, and particularly for hosting today’s diploma mill summit, which brought together key representatives of state and federal agencies. I understand that the summit generated a number of valuable approaches to combating the growing problem of diploma mill degrees. The overwhelming consensus following this summit is that a “positive list” of accredited institutions will be an invaluable tool for government personnel and others when screening applicants.
I urge you to implement a Web-based list of accredited schools as soon as practicable. The single list should consolidate the lists maintained by the various accrediting agencies recognized by your department. The list should also take into account schools in the process of seeking accreditation, as well as schools that meet Department of Education-recognized standards but choose not to seek accreditation.
Currently, an individual who wants to check on the validity of an institution must navigate a confusing and circuitous route in order to verify a school’s accreditation status. To check the status of a single school could well entail wading through dozens of Websites and links. A positive list would offer employers, prospective students and parents a valuable resource that could be accessed with a single keystroke. They could rest assured that schools on the list are legitimate, and would be on notice that schools not listed require additional diligence.
Thank you again for your commitment to fighting this serious problem which devalues the legitimate education credentials earned by millions of individuals through hard work, persistence, and achievement. It is clear to me that your leadership in this area will be critical to safeguarding the standards of higher education in this country. Please be assured that I stand ready to work with you in the effort to shut down institutions that sell bogus degrees.
Mr. Secretary, I know that this issue concerns you as it does me. Please feel free to have your staff contact Michael Bopp, Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Committee, at 202/224-4751, to discuss this matter further.
Susan M. Collins