Government

New Bill in Congress Would Make Diploma Mills a Federal Concern

January 28, 2010

People buy fake college degrees and use them to get jobs and, in some cases, visas. It's a problem that some states have tackled but that, for the most part, the federal government hasn't addressed.

Rep. Timothy H. Bishop has been trying for years to change that. Today the New York Democrat announced that he had introduced the Diploma and Accreditation Integrity Protection Act (HR 4535), a bill that would define diploma mills and accreditation mills. It also would instruct the Federal Trade Commission to take action against entities that fit those definitions and to report its findings to the Department of Education. The bill has two co-sponsors: Betty McCollum, a Democrat of Minnesota, and Michael N. Castle, a Republican of Delaware.

Representative Bishop has been pushing for such a bill since 2005. That's when a Government Accountability Office investigation found that more than 400 federal employees held degrees from unaccredited colleges. At one point, legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act contained language similar to that found in Mr. Bishop's bill, but that provision was later stripped out. Representative Bishop said he had no idea why anyone would object to cracking down on diploma mills.

So why is Mr. Bishop interested in the issue? In part, he said, it stems from his background in academe — he is a former provost of Southampton College of Long Island University. "I know how hard people work to earn their credentials," he said.

The news conference at which the bill was announced was held during the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's annual conference. Also in attendance was George Gollin, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has been on a crusade to expose and shut down diploma mills. Mr. Gollin estimated that some 200,000 bogus degrees are issued every year, though he noted that coming up with accurate numbers is difficult.

The news release for the bill said it would "stop diploma mills." While it's unlikely to stamp out such a widespread, lucrative, and pernicious practice, it would bring more attention to the often-ignored problem. "I think it might be very helpful," said Mr. Gollin. "We need this legislation."

As a first step after the legislation's introduction this week in the House, it was referred to four separate committees for consideration.