Senate panel to give diploma mills the third degree

Diploma mills will come under congressional scrutiny when the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee begins Tuesday two days of hearings on bogus degree-granting institutions.

The General Accounting Office investigation, requested last July by Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., will look at employees who have received promotions based on fake degrees, and whether public money was used to purchase the credentials.

Witnesses at this week's hearings include representatives from GAO, the Education Department and the Office of Personnel Management, as well as a former employee of Columbia State University, a phony degree-granting institution shut down by federal agents in 1998. Also testifying this week is Alan Contreras, the administrator for the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization, who maintains one of the few lists of diploma mills worldwide.

"It is by no means a complete list," Contreras said of his database of over 200 bogus degree suppliers. Some of these universities are located in the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia, although the "institutions" frequently are little more than a mailbox. "But some of them don't exist anywhere," Contreras said. "It's always been a problem, but the advent of the Internet allows for much easier marketing, and it makes it easier for these institutions to look authentic, with photos and testimonials on their Web pages," he said. The Internet also grants pseudo-authority to diploma mills because institutions need not meet any standards to obtain and ".edu" Web address. "There's never been any attempt to screen that, [even though] that's pretty easy to do," he said.

In anticipation of the report, OPM already is making changes to its application forms, and the Education Department has begun compiling a searchable list of accredited institutions.

Contreras said the agencies will face two main problems -- dealing with the small number of unaccredited schools that are academically legitimate, and handling diplomas from schools abroad. Many diploma mills masquerade as foreign schools, but they frequently are merely bogus institutions run from the United States, Contreras said.

At the request of Collins and Davis, the GAO investigation was expanded in January to include Pentagon employees. The report also examined the departments of Homeland Security, HHS, Energy, Transportation, Education and Veterans Affairs, along with OPM and the Small Business Administration.

Collins ordered an initial GAO investigation on obtaining diploma mill degrees in 2001. In that process, GAO obtained two diplomas in Collins' name: a bachelor's degree in biology and master's in medical technology.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.