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Published: Saturday, 10/2/2004

Diploma mills grind away

THE solicitation streaks in over the Internet's electronic transom at the speed of light: "Get the diploma you've always wanted," the e-mail trumpets. "Advance your career." Trouble is, what's being offered - at a handsome price, of course - isn't a chance for real academic achievement but a worthless college degree from the modern incarnation of a diploma mill.

The use of phony academic credentials is nothing new, but government officials and private employers are being forced to scrutinize the educational backgrounds of job applicants closer than ever because of a flood of bogus documents.

The typical avenue for the sale of diplomas, issued by unaccredited educational institutions, often on the basis of purported "life experience" but little or no academic work, is the Internet. Almost everyone with an e-mail address can recall getting a solicitation.

In a case reported by the Detroit News, a Michigan township hired an information technology director who had a degree that cost him $700 from a dubious school. In another instance, a teacher was given a pay raise based on her acquisition of a doctoral degree pitched to her over the Internet.

The township stripped the IT worker of his civil service status for making a false statement but, oddly enough, did not fire him because officials liked his work. The school district, however, is trying to rescind the teacher's raise.

In Washington, the federal General Accountability Office reported that 28 senior government workers - three of them responsible for the security of nuclear weapons - claimed degrees that were bogus. Some of the degrees were purchased with tax money at a cost of up to $5,000.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates there are as many as 500 diploma mills, selling their questionable wares to some 15,000 eager customers and taking in $100 million a year.

Officials expect to see more such incidents because of the demand for workers with advanced qualifications. Unfortunately, few states have strong laws to prohibit such chicanery.

It's time someone in Congress takes up the cause.



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