Collins wants list of 'good' schools

The government needs to create an online list of accredited colleges and universities that agencies, employees and students can use to protect themselves from diploma mill abuses, Sen. Susan Collins says.

This month, the Maine Republican instructed the Education Department to begin work on such a list. In a letter to Education secretary Roderick Paige, the chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, asked the department to consolidate lists maintained by a number of recognized accrediting agencies.

The call for the list followed a summit hosted by Sally Stroup, the department's assistant secretary for postsecondary education, to discuss unaccredited institutions that provide little or no educational value but offer an easy way to obtain academic credentials.

Officials from Education, the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the General Accounting Office and the Office of Personnel Management met with officials from Illinois, New Jersey, North Dakota and Oregon. These four states have been active in opposition to the use of degrees from diploma mills.

'Phony degrees devalue the legitimate credentials earned by millions of individuals through hard work, persistence and achievement,' Collins said after the meeting. '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.'

Dozens of sites

Prospective students and employers seeking to verify a school's bona fides now must navigate a maze of dozens of Web sites, noted Collins, who is considering convening a hearing on diploma mills early this spring.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, also views the meeting as a good first step, Davis spokesman David Marin said.

The meeting 'offered an excellent opportunity to brainstorm and delve deeper into the full range of issues'and full range of potential congressional inquiry'surrounding the diploma mill issue,' Marin said.

Davis and Collins in the summer asked GAO to look into the use of diploma mill credentials by federal employees.

Marin said Davis' committee wants to learn 'the scope of the abuse, the impact on morale and performance and taxpayer-funded education programs and, most importantly, what we can do about it.'

Existing guidelines

A congressional aide who attended the meeting said there was a lengthy discussion about how the government should handle federal employees who have degrees from unaccredited schools.

'The regulations are in place, the laws are on the books,' said Michael Bopp, chief counsel for Governmental Affairs. 'OPM has had long-standing guidelines saying that only degrees from accredited schools can be used to meet degree requirements.'

The issue of federal employees who have degrees from unaccredited schools came to light last June, when Government Computer News and Washington Technology discovered that a high-ranking official at the Homeland Security Department had acquired all three of her degrees, including a doctorate, from a diploma mill in Wyoming.

Follow-up research by PostNewsweek Tech Media turned up dozens of federal IT officials whose resumes listed degrees from unaccredited schools.

OPM issued a governmentwide memorandum last summer reminding agencies to reimburse education expenses only from accredited schools.

As to the GAO review, officials said GAO likely will complete its report next month. Auditors have been gathering information about federal employees in several agencies and interviewing workers about their credentials.

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