GAO Response

What is the history behind the GAO report of 2004?

Over the years, in answering many variations of this question, we have conducted detailed research into the topic. We have discovered the major points outlined below that dispel most of the misinformation that exists on the internet today.

The GAO Report itself was just one presentation that was presented to the Senate Committee  on Governmental Affairs Hearings held on May 11, and 12th 2004 in Washington, D.C. Senate Committe Official Record. The hearings were called to determine if government employees were obeying the new federal laws enacted after 9/11/2001. The Senate Committee wanted to make certain that federal employees were no longer attending or requesting that the government pay for education from non-accredited colleges and universities.

Prior to 9/11/2001 the United States Federal Government accepted and paid for degrees that federal employees had earned at non-accredited colleges and universities. Some of these federal employees received job promotions and pay increases for their academic efforts from the non-accredited institutions. Both Pacific Western University - California and Pacific Western University - Hawaii had federal employees attend their institutions and receive job promotions and education reembursement for their studies prior to September 11, 2001. After 9/11/2001, when several of the terrorist were found to have attended non-accredited flight schools, U.S. policy changed dramatically toward all non-accredited colleges and universities. Congress passed laws prohibiting the Federal Government from paying for and/or accepting degrees from non-accredited schools for job promotions and pay increases.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs included Senator Daniel K. Akaka from Hawaii. The Hawaii Senator was very concerned over the fact that Hawaii had not passed comprehensive laws governing private postsecondary education. He was concerned that his state was becoming a haven for unaccredited schools and even some diploma mills. The Senate Committee, therefore, researched some schools located in Hawaii. Since Pacific Western University - Hawaii was one of the largest private postsecondary institutions operating in Hawaii, they were included.

Here is the overview of our examination and findings:

1.  The GAO Report was one part of testimony presented to the United States Senate Committee on Government Affairs which was convened to determine if Government Employees had earned their degrees which were used for employment advancement, from unaccredited schools. The official testimony of these hearings reflect with certainty that the data presented before the Senate Committee was information concerning Pacific Western University-Hawaii rather than Pacific Western University - California Senate Committe Official Record.

The GAO Report itself used the generic name of Pacific Western University, instead of PWU - Hawaii. However, on page 11 of the published official record of the complete Senate Sub-Committee Hearings from 2004 a top official from the GAO, while presenting the formal written GAO Reprot, states that the GAO looked at Pacific Western University - Hawaii and cited the flat tuition fee charged by PWU - Hawaii as was listed on the university website from 2004. These fees appear both in the Senate Sub-Committee Official Record as well as the body of the official written GAO Report.

The Senate Committee Official Record contains several transcriptions of tape recording played to the Senate Committe that show the differences between the Pacific Western University - Hawaii and Pacific Western University - California institutions.  The Official Record reflects that  the two institutions had very different tuition structures due to different degree program offerings and the fact that the two institutions operated under very different State laws.  For example, PWU - California, which was California State Approved, did not offer it's degree programs for a flat fee and its tuition was almost four times higher than PWU - Hawii.

The official Senate Committee full record includes testimony from postsecondary education expert Alan Contreas, head of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization. Mr. Contreras presented this official statement to the Senate Committee:

"The  question came  up  earlier of whether all  unaccredited colleges are  diploma mills. The  answer is  clearly no,  and  I will  go over  the Oregon procedure for  evaluating these things a  little bit  later. But there are  a number of unaccredited schools  that are  perfectly legiti- mate post-secondary providers. There are  ways  that you  can  deter- mine  what they are,  and  that they are  not  a pure mail-order house such  as  the  previous witness described.

But  right now  in  the  United States, the  only  meaningful, trans- portable, national interstate standard to decide  whether a post-sec- ondary provider is  legitimate or  not,  is  accreditation. That is  what we use  in  the  United States. Not  every  country does  that, but  that is what we do.

So  as  you  may  have noticed with situations like  Pacific  Western,  if you  have a  State-approved school  somewhere else   and   somebody moves  from  one  State to  another and  wants to  use  that  degree, if it is  not  accredited, we  have no  idea  what it is  really, if they have not  gone  through our  own evaluation process."

In his official testimony, Mr. Contreras acknowledging that Pacific Western University - California was California State approved but because the University was not accredited he wanted it to undergo state approval in Oregon before his state would recognize the degrees. He also stated:

" Some unaccredited colleges provide legitimate academic work. However, unless these colleges are approved by ODA, degrees from them carmot be used in Oregon. The reason is that state laws under which such institutions are approved vary markedly from state to state. Some states have high standards, some states have lax standards, no standards or no enforcement capability."

Mr. Contreras's entiire testimony can be read in the Senate Committee Full Record.

State Approval was and is California Law. The regulations governing the law were enforced by the California Bureau of Private Post-Secondary and Vocational Education ("BPPVE"). These regulations in effect in 2004 were very comprehensive requiring State visitations and oversight . You are invited to read the entire standards. The link for the web archived to the BPPVE site is: BPPVE Archeived Website. The link detailing the California State Law and the Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education Regulations is: California State Law Private Postsecondary Institutions

The California State Approval  process in effect in 2004 included a qualitative review, assessment and approval of all of the following:

  • Institutional purpose, mission, and objectives.
  • Governance and administration.
  • Curriculum.
  • Instruction.
  • Faculty, including their qualifications.
  • Physical facilities.
  • Administrative personnel.
  • Procedures for keeping educational records.
  • Tuition, fee, and refund schedules.
  • Admissions standards.
  • Financial aid policies and practices.
  • Scholastic regulations and graduation requirements.
  • Ethical principles and practices.
  • Library and other learning resources.
  • Student activities and services.
  • Degrees offered.

2. PWU - Hawaii was mentioned only two times in the actual GAO Report.  One mention was that the University offered degree programs for a flat fee, which was a criteria the GAO stated that it was looking for when it searched for schools to include in their report.

The second mention in the GAO Report questioned wheather any government employees had attend PWU and had their tuition paid for or reimbursed by the Federal Government. In 2002, after the passage of the new U.S. laws, government employees were not allowed to either request or have the federal government pay or reimburse tuition for degree programs offered by unaccredited colleges or universities. Pacific Western University - California and Pacific Western University - Hawaii cooperated with the investigation and provided information to the GAO, under penalty of perjury, stating that they did not have any current students that had their tuition paid for or reimbursed by any government agency after the passage of this new law.

It was not a violation of the law for federal employees to attend unaccredited schools or for the schools to offer their educational programs to government employees. It was only a violation by these federal employees to request that the Federal Government pay for or reimburse their tuition and/or use this education for the explict reason of promtion or increase in salary within the federal government.

The GAO in their report seemed to question the fact that no government employees had their tuition paid for to either of the Pacific Western University instituions after 2002. However, the full Senate Committeee Offiical Record which included the presentation of the full GAO Report, did not present any information from the U.S. government or the GAO that proved that the official statements made by Pacific Western University - California and Pacific Western University - Hawaii were inaccurate. Senate Committee Full Record.

We have the offical records in our possession showing the formal response of Pacific Western University - Hawaii and Pacific Western University - California to the GAO. PWU - Hawaii stated that althought they did have federal government employees who had and were attending PWU - Hawaii since 2002, all of these students had paid for their own education. Records in our possession confirm this fact. Whether these students subsequently tried to use their PWU - Hawaii education for a job promotion or pay increase or whether these students had tried to seek reimbursement for their PWU - Hawaii tuition costs, was not revealed in the formal response to the GAO by PWU - Hawaii nor by the Senate Committee Official Record.

The response from Pacific Western University - California showed that no government employees had even attended the California program after the passage of the new law. As Pacific Western University - California only offered five degree programs, all in business administration, and had an extremely high tuition compared to most other non-accredited schools, this lack of enrollment by government employees was understandable.

3.  The GAO Report does name some schools in their report as "Diploma Mills", but they do not call PWU - Hawaii by this name. Although the GAO Report states that accreditation is a voluntary process, they proceed to paint a broad and often unflattering and inaccurate picture of  "Unaccredited Schools" in general.  This includes Pacific Western University - California, which two times in the Senate Committee Official Record is referred to as a State Approved institution. This unfortunate portrail of all unaccredited schools, along with the very title of the report itself,created a great deal of unwarranted media attention to any of the schools interviewed and mentioned in the report.