Degree Mills

CBS News: Top Officials Hold Fake Degrees

They are safety engineers at nuclear power plants and biological weapons experts. They work at NATO headquarters, at the Pentagon and at nearly every other federal agency. And, as CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports, they’re employees with degrees from phony schools.

“These degrees aren’t worth the paper that they’re printed on,” says one insider, who asked CBS News to protect his identity.

The man worked at a so-called diploma mill where students pay a lot of money to get a degree online or through the mail for little or no work.

He says he’s not surprised to know that there are people working at almost every level of government who have degrees from these types of operations.

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.”

This doesn’t surprise me in the least, as I’ve seen a lot of this, especially from the DoD. The Army essentially requires its officers to have masters degrees to get promotion to major and it’s virtually impossible to make it past lieutanant colonel without one. This wasn’t a big problem a decade ago, as officers routinely had an assignment or two somewhere in their career that allowed plenty of time to get a degree. Nowadays, with constant deployments and a high opstempo, it’s much more difficult. The approved solution, in many cases, was a degree of least resistance.

When I was teaching at Troy State, I taught some correspondence (“Internet based distance learning”) courses, primarily to military officers, in the Master of Science in International Relations program. It was incredibly popular because of its flexibility–students could take courses from literally anywhere in the world and didn’t have to follow a rigourous academic schedule because the courses were short and offered constantly. Unfortunately, many of the students lacked sufficient time to actually do coursework let alone write graduate quality research papers. Because the program was a huge cash cow for the university, the reaction was to turn it into a tacit degree mill. My then-colleague Steven Taylor and I both resisted this trend and upset the apple cart. Students were befuddled that they had to read more than one introductory level textbook, plus a large stack of journal articles, plus a real research paper. Frankly, it was a losing battle. Fortunately, the program is now under new management and is now a legitimate masters degree. My guess, though, is that this will result in many students taking their “education” dollar elsewhere.

The military also has gentlemen’s agreements with several prestigious universities whereby officers go to the school and come out with a PhD in only three years. Given that the norm is five to seven years, that’s quite an accomplishment. Partly, it stems from the fact that the officers are more disciplined than the average grad student and are getting paid quite well to go to school, so don’t have distractions. Still, getting through the coursework plus a dissertation that quickly inevitably means cutting corners. But it’s good money for the schools–the officers pay full fare–and the expectation is that few of these graduates will wind up pursuing a traditional academic career upon their retirement from the service in their mid-40s.

On the other hand, I would note that sometimes people get bogus degrees to get a check in the proverbial box to bolster legitimate experience. Abel appears well qualified for his job on the basis of his twenty years of service as an Army officer, even though he got a bogus MA. Whatever the value of Walker‘s BA, she’s got a wealth of experience and has an MA from American University, which is hardly a degree mill. I have no idea how competent they are in their jobs, but I’m pretty sure the quality of their academic degrees isn’t a big factor at this point.

Via Memeorandum

FILED UNDER: Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.