A new report from the Government Accountability Office found several instances of rule-breaking at several for-profit colleges in the United States. Investigators who went undercover to pose as students found they could get away with blatant flauting of academic standards, such as plagiarism. Some even found they could get away with inserting photos of celebrities and politicians in lieu of written answers to essay questions.
When the investigators presented “fictitious evidence of high-school graduation — either a home-school diploma or a diploma from a closed high school,” they were allowed to enroll in online courses at 15 commercial colleges, which were not identified in the report.
Once enrolled, the undercover students investigating the colleges engaged in “substandard academic performance,” including plagiarism, failure to attend class, failure to submit assignments and submission of incorrect. assignments.
The investigation was conducted over the course of one year, from October 2010 to October 2011. Each investigator enrolled for one term. The report focused on the areas of enrollment criteria, cost, financial aid, course structure, substandard student performance, withdrawal and exit counseling.
Overall, eight of the 15 schools followed standard procedures regarding penalties for academic dishonesty, exit counseling and course grading. There were mixed results for the remaining seven schools.
At one college, “Our undercover student consistently submitted plagiarized material, such as articles clearly copied from online sources or text copied verbatim from a class textbook,” according to the report.
The first time it happened, the instructor told the student to paraphrase but gave full credit. The student continued to turn in plagiarized assignments and ultimately received a failing grade, but no action related to academic misconduct was taken.
There were also situations in which the schools and instructors followed standard policies.
At one college, a professor repeatedly tried to contact a student who logged into class but did not submit assignments or participate in discussions. When the student refused help, the professor locked the student out of the class.
The undercover investigation was done at the request of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Harkin’s office was closed Wednesday, but he released a statement Tuesday regarding the report, as was reported by the New York Times.
“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,” Harkin said.
“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,” Harkin said, “it is obvious that Congress must step in to hold this heavily federally subsidized industry more accountable.”