Diploma Mills:

Federal Employees Have Obtained Degrees from Diploma Mills and Other Unaccredited Schools, Some at Government Expense

GAO-04-771T: Published: May 11, 2004. Publicly Released: May 11, 2004.

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As requested, GAO conducted an investigation to determine whether the federal government has paid for degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited postsecondary schools. Section 4107 of title 5, U. S. Code, only permits the federal government to pay for the cost of academic degree training provided by a college or university that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting body. GAO was also asked to determine whether federal employees who hold senior-level positions have degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. This report summarizes our investigative findings.

In summary, 3 of the 4 unaccredited schools responded to our requests for information and provided records that identified 463 students employed by the federal government. Two of the four schools provided records that federal agencies paid them $150,387.80 for the fees of federal employee students. In addition, DOE and DOT advised us of separate payments totaling $19,082.94 for expenses associated with degrees from these two schools, for total federal payments of $169,470.74 to them. However, for the reasons explained below, the records provided by the schools and agencies likely understate the extent of federal payments for degrees at diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. Data provided by 8 agencies indicated that 28 senior-level employees have degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools. In our follow-up interviews with six of these employees and their managers, we were told that experience, rather than educational credentials, was considered in hiring and promotion decisions concerning these employees. Again, however, for reasons set forth below, this number is believed to be an understatement of the actual number of employees at these 8 agencies who have degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools.

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