Education considers database of accredited schools

The Education Department could issue a task order by the end of May to create a database of accredited colleges and universities, as part of a response to the diploma mill issue.

Department officials met in January with congressional committee staff as well as representatives of the Office of Personnel Management, the General Accounting Office and the FBI to review responses to the problem (Click for GCN story). Education officials have been laying groundwork for a list of accredited schools. The project requires the approval of Education secretary Rod Paige.

The list now is referred to by Education and by the committee staffs as 'the positive list,' said John Barth, director of accreditation and state liaison in the Office of Postsecondary Education.

Officials from the committees and executive agencies agreed at the January summit that creating a 'negative list' of diploma mills would be too difficult, because of the problems of tracking down the constantly emerging and disappearing bogus schools.

Education plans to field the list in two phases, Barth said. The first phase, set to be completed this year, will cover schools that currently are accredited by federally recognized national or regional agencies. The second phase will reach back into history to track schools that may have lost their accreditation.

'Some accrediting agencies say their records are in electronic format and easily shared,' Barth said. 'In other cases the records are in paper form and are stored in a warehouse.'

Barth said Education officials now are working out the logistical issues of creating an online list of accredited schools, 'such as collecting the data and building a software platform,' Barth said. 'I haven't surveyed every [accreditation] agency but I am assuming we will be dealing with different databases.'

At first, the list will include schools' names and addresses as well as the date when accreditation originally was granted. 'In the second phase, we will be dealing with the date of when accreditation might have been withdrawn from an institution,' Barth said.

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