Chairman Collins: Loophole Allows Taxpayer Dollars to Pay for Federal Workers’ Diploma Mill Degrees

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today urged the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to close a legal loophole that enables federal employees to use federal funds to pay for coursework from diploma mills. Diploma mills masquerade as legitimate institutions of higher learning, but the degrees they offer are awarded for a fee, not on the basis of meaningful coursework or academic achievement.

“I would urge you to issue regulations that would prevent a federal agency from underwriting a diploma mill degree by paying for imagined or substandard coursework,” wrote Collins in her letter to OPM Director Kay Cole James. “Diploma mill credentials devalue the legitimate degrees earned by millions of individuals through hard work, persistence, and achievement.”

As Collins pointed out, “An amendment to the Homeland Security Act authorizes an agency to pay for the costs of academic degree training for an employee only from an accredited college or university, but it does not address whether an agency may pay for courses from an unaccredited institution, including a diploma mill. Nor am I aware of any federal regulation that would prevent public funds from being used to pay for diploma mill ‘coursework.’”

In fact, promotional materials from diploma mills suggest that federal agencies may reimburse their employees for coursework completed to obtain the bogus degree.

Collins has been working for more than two years to expose the problems associated with diploma mill degrees. Earlier this month, Collins asked the General Accounting Office (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.

This latest investigation was spurred in part by news that Laura Callahan, a high ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), obtained her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Hamilton University, an unaccredited school in Evanston, Wyo., that reportedly requires little academic work.

Collins also has requested that the Department of Labor (DOL) provide information about whether Callahan had used her degrees to gain a promotion or bonus and whether the federal government helped to pay for those degrees. Callahan worked at DOL prior to DHS. Collins had made a similar request of DHS.

Collins will determine whether to hold hearings on the issue once the GAO has reported its findings.