Friday, September 24, 2004

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Note to self: trademark the University of Drezner

Yesterday the GAO issued a report entitled "Diploma Mills Are Easily Created and Some Have Issued Bogus Degrees to Federal Employees at Government Expense." This snippet, from the results in brief, discusses the actions of the GAO's Office of Special Investigations (OSI):

OSI purchased two degrees from a diploma mill through the Internet. After identifying “Degrees-R-Us” as a diploma mill, our investigator held numerous discussions in an undercover capacity with its owner. Posing as a prospective student, the investigator first contacted Degrees-R-Us to obtain information regarding the steps to follow in purchasing degrees. Following those instructions, we purchased a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Medical Technology. The degrees were awarded by Lexington University, a nonexistent institution purportedly located in Middletown, New York. We provided Degrees-R-Us with references that were never contacted and paid a $1,515 fee for a “premium package.” The package included the two degrees with honors and a telephone verification service that could be used by potential employers verifying the award of the degrees.

OSI also created a diploma mill to test vulnerabilities in the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFEL). We created Y’Hica Institute for the Visual Arts, a fictitious graduate-level foreign school purportedly located in London, England. We first created a bogus consulting firm that posed as Y’Hica’s U.S. representative and the principal point of contact with the Department of Education (Education). In addition, we created a Web site and set up a telephone number and a post office box address for Y’Hica. Using counterfeit documents, we obtained certification from Education for the school to participate in the FFEL program. Education has since reported that it has taken steps to guard against the vulnerabilities that were revealed by our investigation. (emphases added)

I'm trying to visualize the bull session at which GAO staffers came up with the name "Y’Hica Institute for the Visual Arts." Readers are invited to submit their preferred name for a diploma mill (obvious jokes about Harvard will be treated with casual scorn).

Hmmm.... on the off chance that the Department of Education hasn't closed that loophole, maybe academic blogs can find another revenue-generating stream?

UPDATE: Here's a news recap of the report:

How many senior level employees in the federal government have degrees from diploma mills?

The real answer: no one knows. That is the conclusion of the GAO’s Robert J. Cramer, Managing Director for GAO’s Office of Special Investigations, who testified before a Congressional subcommittee on the issue. A recent investigation found that there is a problem but there isn’t a system in place to accurately verify the validity of educational degrees claimed by federal employees.

Having said that, it is clear that some senior federal employees have obtained degrees from educational companies that do not require any work to earn the degrees.

GAO defines diploma mills as nontraditional, unaccredited, postsecondary schools offering degrees for a low flat fee, promoting the award of academic credits based on life experience, and not requiring classroom instruction....

GAO asked the Department of Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Veterans Administration, Small Business Administration and Office of Personnel Management for information. 28 senior employees in these listed degrees from unaccredited schools, and 1 employee received tuition reimbursement of $1,787.44 toward a degree from a diploma mill.

The final result is that agencies are not able to provide reliable data because they do not have systems to verify academic degrees or to detect fees for degrees disguised as payment for individual training courses. Additionally, the agency data GAO found do not reflect the extent to which senior-level federal employees have diploma mill degrees. This is because the agencies do not sufficiently verify the degrees that employees claim to have or the schools that issued the degrees.

posted by Dan on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM


Readers are invited to submit their preferred name for a diploma mill(obvious jokes about Harvard will be trated with casual scorn).

How about Yale?

posted by: flaime on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Einstein's basement

451 Degrees (for Bradbury fans)

A for no effort

Graduate While You Wait

Doctorates for Bachelors

Bush and Kerry Club

posted by: David Weisman on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Does Bush's Harvard MBA and Yale BS (heh..BS!) count as phony?

Top Officials have Phony Degrees - (CBS) 5/10/04
"Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Abell has a master's from Columbus University, a diploma mill Louisiana shut down. Deputy Assistant Secretary Patricia Walker lists among her degrees, a bachelor's from Pacific Western, a diploma mill banned in Oregon and under investigation in Hawaii.

CBS News requested interviews with both officials. The Pentagon turned us down, saying, "We don't consider it an issue."

But using such a degree is a crime in some states. Alan Contreras cracks down on diploma mills for Oregon, a state that's taken the lead on this issue.

"You don't want somebody with a fake degree working in Homeland Security," says Contreras. "You don't want somebody with a fake degree teaching your children or designing your bridges."

But we found employees with diploma mill degrees at the new Transportation Security Administration, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Departments of Treasury and Education, where Rene Drouin sits on an advisory committee. He has degrees from two diploma mills including Kensington University.

Kensington was forced out of business by officials in California and Hawaii. Another Kensington alum, Florida State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, just stepped down from the National Commission on Presidential Scholars.

Both Carroll and Drouin say they worked hard and thought their degrees were legitimate.

"The students are being sold a bill of goods that really don't help them at all," the insider says. "There are slick people out there, and it's happening every day, every minute probably somewhere in America."

And taxpayers have paid for bogus degrees some workers used for hiring, promotions and raises."

posted by: joejoejoe on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

jjj - thanx. That's incredible. "..don't consider it an issue." That's the line I used when Dad found a helmet in my wallet. Didn't work then, either.

If you buy that, I've got a bridge for sale. The papers look pretty legit. Bought them from a professor at "CCNY-Brooklyn".

posted by: wishIwuz2 on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Looks like there is a profit opportunity for some detective agency to offer the service of verifying that degree-granting institutions exist, and that the individual actually got the degree that they are claiming. The detective agency could sell that service to anyone who wanted to check, such as auditors, agencies conducting security clearances, employers verifying credentials, grad schools verifying credentials, the press, etc.

posted by: Acad Ronin on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Probably not the ideal blog to raise the issue in, but the federal government really does over-demand educational certification. Most federal agencies simply won't look at an applicant who does not sport at least a BS/BA for any job above gardener. Many put their cut-off at an MS/MA.

This, I suspect, is a simple reaction to grade inflation, but leads to two evils. The first, as noted, is the temptation toward bogus degrees. The second is that by using inappropriate filters, the process keeps qualified people out of jobs.

It would be interesting to track back the real degree v. bogus degree record of highly-placed federal employees back to the 1960s, perhaps to the '50s to establish a baseline.

posted by: John on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Require a degree from an accredited school. End of problem.

posted by: Jor on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Suggested bogus degreees:

MBA from the Proudhon School of Market Economics

MFA from the Tristan Tzara Institute of Classical Art

PhD in Corporate Governance from the Ken Lay School of Management Studies

MA in Queer Theory from the Rush Limbaugh School for Women

Accreditation in Media Fairness from The Matt Drudge Institute of Journalistic Ethics

posted by: Andrew Edwards on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

Yikes 'Here It Comes Again!

posted by: Scorpio on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

John makes an excellent point. A Bachelor's Degree nowadays seems like simply a certification that the individual holding it has sat still for an amount of BS comparable to what they'll collect doing the work.

Unless there's a parallel attempt to determine whether or not the people with bogus degrees are less competent at the actual job than those with "real" sheepskins, this is just another Okie Law designed to keep the riffraff out of the privileged domains of the elite.

Ric Locke

posted by: Ric Locke on 09.24.04 at 06:13 PM [permalink]

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