WASHINGTON, D.C.— Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) today called on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Education to act swiftly to close the loopholes in federal law that enable government employees to pay for diploma mill, or bogus degrees, with taxpayer dollars. Diploma mills promote the award of academic credit based on life or work experience and require little to no serious academic work.
“What looks at first to be a clear rule prohibiting agencies from paying for diploma mill degrees is, in reality, subject to a loophole that can be easily exploited. The loophole allows agencies to pay for classes at diploma mills. It must be closed. We owe students, employers, and taxpayers no less,” said Senator Collins.
Senator Collins made the request of OPM and Education representatives who testified during the second day of Committee hearings examining the problems of diploma mills. On Tuesday, Senator Collins unveiled a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that she requested with House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) showing that 28 high-ranking officials at eight federal agencies hold diploma mill degrees and that a total of 463 students at three unaccredited schools work for the federal government. In addition, data from just two unaccredited schools — Kennedy-Western University and California Coast University — revealed nearly $170,000 in tuition payments from the federal government.
“At a time when we have high federal deficits, it is unacceptable for a single federal dollar to be spent on diploma mills,” said Senator Collins.
In addition to her work to put a stop to federal dollars wasted on bogus degrees, Senator Collins is working to ensure that employers and prospective students have access to information about accredited learning institutions. Specifically, at Senator Collins’ request, the U.S. Department of Education has agreed to create an online list of accredited institutions. Senator Collins also has urged the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to better train federal agencies to recognize diploma mills. OPM affirmed during today’s hearing that it is working to address the problems.
Under current law, the federal government may not pay for “academic degrees” from an unaccredited school; it may, however, pay for an employee to take individual courses. These courses could inadvertently add up to a degree. As a result of the Committee’s investigation, the OPM is currently reviewing this loophole in the law as well as its hiring procedures and forms.
Today’s hearing also took a closer look at the marketing strategies and academic program of Kennedy-Western University, an unaccredited school with academic requirements that fail to meet the standards of legitimate institutions. During a three-year period, Kennedy-Western’s revenues topped $73 million. The Committee became interested in Kennedy-Western because its catalog boasted that several federal agencies had paid for their employees’ education at the school.
“A simple marketing strategy has propelled some diploma mills to financial success. By hiding behind a mask of legitimacy, diploma mills can be used by the unethical and can fool the unwary student or employer into believing that their degrees are as legitimate as a degree from an accredited university that provides a quality education and plays by the rules,” said Senator Collins.
For more than three years, Senator Collins and her Committee have been examining the problems associated with diploma mill degrees. In 2001, she asked the GAO to investigate how easy it is to purchase a degree from a diploma mill. As a result of that first investigation, the GAO purchased two bogus degrees in Senator Collins’ name — a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Medical Technology — along with a fake transcript, all from Lexington University for a cost of $1,515 for both degrees.