Senator seeks tuition-reimbursement investigation

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has called for an investigation of whether the government pays tuition reimbursement to employees who burnish their academic credentials at unaccredited organizations. She also said she wants to explore whether such organizations should be shut down.

Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, on Friday requested that the General Accounting Office investigate the issue of tuition reimbursement.

'Given the recent news about diploma mills, I have asked the GAO to conduct an investigation into whether federal funds have been used to pay for these 'degrees,' ' Collins said in a statement. 'The investigation will follow up on work that the GAO has previously completed on diploma mills at my request, and reflects the need to determine the prevalence of this practice and whether steps need to be taken to shut down these coin-operated colleges.'

One California school included on Oregon's list of diploma mills, for example, includes in its literature a list of public- and private-sector entities that either paid tuition or reimbursed employees for their tuition expenses, according to research already under way by Post Newsweek Tech Media. More than a dozen federal agencies and departments are included on the list.

'Recent allegations suggest that a high-ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security has been claiming to hold bona fide bachelor's, master's and doctorate-level degrees that she actually obtained from a 'diploma mill,' ' Collins' letter stated in asking for the investigation. 'One area of the investigation should be the extent to which the federal government has funded diploma mill degrees through its employee education and training programs.'

The GAO in 2002 conducted two investigations at Collins' request on the widespread use of diploma mills. The first investigation examined how easy it is to purchase a degree from an unaccredited school; the second investigation demonstrated how easily a fake academic program could get student loans from the Department of Education.

Post Newsweek Tech Media first reported May 30 that Laura Callahan, deputy CIO of DHS, obtained her Ph.D. from Hamilton University, an unaccredited, unlicensed entity based in Evanston, Wyo. Hamilton University requires just a single at-home test and a 2,000-word thesis before awarding a doctoral degree; the remaining course requirements are satisfied with credit for life and work experience.

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