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Education Reporter

Undercover Investigators Give Commercial Colleges a Failing Grade
A recent study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) has determined that you don't need a high school degree to enroll in some commercial colleges. You don't even need to be a real person — and you may be able to pass your classes without doing any work.

Undercover investigators from the GAO spent the past year testing online introductory courses at fifteen popular commercial colleges. Twelve of the colleges allowed investigators to enroll online using a fake high school diploma, or a diploma from a high school that had closed. Most of the schools either violated their own policies on cheating and grading, or failed to offer federally mandated exit counseling for those with student loans.

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Investigators tested academic policies by failing to log in to required classes, completing assignments incorrectly or not at all, and engaging in obvious plagiarism. One undercover student submitted pictures of celebrities in response to essay questions and failed to participate in required chat sessions, yet still passed the class. Another received an A on an assignment that was never submitted. After failing two multiple choice quizzes, another student was encouraged to cheat. Since the correct answers were displayed at the end of each quiz, the instructor told the investigator, "it's not hard to get a 100 percent on the second try; just jot down the correct answers and take the quiz again."

Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, requested the investigation as part of his ongoing examination of commercial sector practices.

"The fact that many of the schools accepted incomplete and plagiarized work — sometimes for full credit — leads me to question whether for-profit college students are truly receiving the quality education they are promised to prepare them for a good job," he said in a statement. "Coupled with sky-high tuition costs, alarming dropout rates, poor job placement services and the many other troubling practices that we've uncovered in the HELP Committee's investigation, it is obvious that Congress must step in to hold this heavily federally subsidized industry more accountable."

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