Questionable degrees, the big picture
Whatever his motivations, Florida Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil may have become the state's poster child for a higher education issue that never, ever goes away (see Saturday's St. Petersburg Times story here). The question of questionable degrees attracted Congressional attention in 2004, yet experts say there are still hundreds of institutions cranking out such degrees, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people listing them on their resumes.
In Florida alone, a new story surfaces every few months. A few weeks ago, the Fort Myers News Press reported on a state House candidate with a questionable degree (click here), and last year the Naples Daily News wrote several stories about two police officers who were fired because of degree issues (click here and here). Closer to home, the St. Petersburg Times reported last year about bogus degrees at the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office (click here and here).
It's hard to beat a lead like this one: "The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office is on the hunt for false college degrees after an internal affairs investigation found that at least one employee obtained his diploma from the same school that once awarded a master's to a cat."
But wait. Here's the lead to a January story from The Toledo Blade: "The Fostoria Police Department may have the most educated police dog around. Documents filed Monday in Seneca County Common Pleas Court show that John I. Rocko, aka Rocko the police dog, received a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice last year. Not only that, it's the same institution that police Chief John McGuire's resume said he received a degree from in 2002."
On the serious side, most of these stories involve real people with real responsibilities (like the former deputy chief information officer for the Department of Homeland Security; see story here). The General Accounting Office reported in 2004 that its review of three unaccredited schools identified 463 federal employees who had obtained degrees from them (for the report, click here). And John Bear, a leading authority on diploma mills, said he once searched resumes on monster.com to see how many listed sham institutions. He stopped counting at 5,000.
All of this raises obvious questions: Shouldn't local and state officials better watchdog such degrees in Florida, like their counterparts do in Oregon (click here)? Shouldn't they also be looking for them?
- Ron Matus, state education reporter