Education Department may keep list of legitimate schools

The Education Department is considering the creation of a master list of accredited colleges and universities in the United States, as a way to protect prospective students and employers from diploma mills.

That proposal was floated at a meeting hosted by the department yesterday and attended by several federal agencies and representatives of states that have laws banning the use of degrees from unaccredited schools.

Officials from the Office of Personnel Management, General Accounting Office, FBI, Federal Trade Commission and the Education Department met for several hours with officials from Oregon, New Jersey, Illinois and North Dakota, the states most active in preventing the use of degrees from diploma mills.

'The most concrete step was that everyone agreed we need a positive list of accredited schools, updated regularly and authoritative, and we all agreed that the Education Department was the right one' to compile it, said a staff member from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, who attended the meeting. Committee Chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has been a vocal critic of diploma mills.

'Sen. Collins will be writing to Secretary Paige and urging him to take this step. ' If it turns out that the department needs to contract out [to do this], the senator will support that,' the staffer said.

The issue of federal employees claiming degrees from unaccredited schools came to the forefront last June, when Washington Technology and Government Computer News discovered that a high-ranking official at the Homeland Security Department had acquired all three of her degrees, including a Ph.D., from a diploma mill in Wyoming, followed by revelations that dozens of federal IT professionals also included degrees from unaccredited schools on their resumes.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a governmentwide memorandum last summer reminding agencies to only reimburse education expenses from accredited schools. The General Accounting Office has been investigating the scope of the problem at the request of Collins and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

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