WASHINGTON – Obtaining a college degree takes many hours of study in the library and plenty of money,or as more and more people are finding out – $17.95,plus shipping,off the Internet.
At a press conference Tuesday,several members of Congress and federal agency experts announced the creation of a Department of Education Web site containing a list of 6,900 accredited universities and trade schools. The site was created to help employers decide if employees' degrees are valid,said Rep. Mike Castle,R-Del.
“What we are doing today is a first step,” he said.
Lawmakers estimated “diploma mills” grossed approximately $200 million last year.
A Government Accountability Office study in May revealed nearly 500 federal workers,including 28 top officials in eight agencies,held fake degrees.
Those 28 had used fake degree to obtain pay raises or promotion. The government reimbursed employees for nearly $170,000 of non-existent course work
The study has called serious attention to the issue,the officials said Tuesday.
Rep. Howard McKeon,R-Calif.,said the time had come to do something about diploma mills,and hopefully the Web site will act as an easy reference for employers.
“It's tempting. I don't even have a PhD,” he said. “This is a problem on a federal level. This is a giant step forward.”
Bob Lucas,53,co-owner of the Web site BoxFreeConcepts.com,manufactures novelty diplomas. Lucas said his company tries hard to let consumers know they aren't getting the real thing.
“People ask,can I use this on my resume or get it past the HR department?” he said. “And we let them know they can't do that. If you spend a little time,you can see that our stuff is novelty.”
To stay out of trouble,the company doesn't use state or college seals,but Lucas said he couldn't prevent people from trying to use a phony degree to get ahead.
“I think there is the occasional person who does that,” he said. “And that is very disconcerting.”
The list on the new Web site,although large,is not complete,panelists said. Sally Stroup,assistant secretary of post secondary education,said institutions that don't want government financial aid aren't on the list,but many are legitimate.
“This is a first source,” she said. “Hopefully if a college isn't on this list,it will lead the employer to do some more research. We hope it's a valuable tool.”
Castle said legislation on this issue in unlikely because of the complexity of determining what constitutes a real school.
“It's not that simple,” he said. “Maybe they aren't accredited,but they are still real and serve a valuable purpose. It is up to the postal services and the FBI to step forward and make their cases.”
As for Lucas,he thinks the diploma mills that don't tell customers the truth should be taken out of business.
“I think they belong in jail,” he said. “I worked hard to get my degree that's from a real school. I have a real education.”
The school list is available at http://www.ope.ed.gov/accreditation