HOUSE BILL REPORT
As Reported by House Committee On:
Higher Education & Workforce Education
Title: An act relating to degree-granting institutions of higher education.
Brief Description: Prohibiting false or misleading college degrees.
Sponsors: Representatives Kenney, Shabro, Hasegawa, Morrell, Rodne, Lantz and Ormsby.
Higher Education & Workforce Education: 1/20/06, 1/26/06 [DPS].
Brief Summary of Substitute Bill
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON HIGHER EDUCATION & WORKFORCE EDUCATION
Majority Report: The substitute bill be substituted therefor and the substitute bill do pass. Signed by 12 members: Representatives Kenney, Chair; Sells, Vice Chair; Cox, Ranking Minority Member; Rodne, Assistant Ranking Minority Member; Dunn, Fromhold, Hasegawa, Jarrett, Ormsby, Priest, Roberts and Sommers.
Staff: Sarah Ream (786-7303).
Washington law prohibits a private degree granting institution from "operating" in Washington unless it has been approved by the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB). The definition of "operate" is broad. An institution of higher education "operates" in Washington if it does any of the following things:
If an institution operates in Washington without approval of the HECB, the entity and its
owners, officers, and employees are guilty of a gross misdemeanor. They may be punished
by up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to one year in jail.
Washington law also directs the HECB to develop and publish information to the public regarding entities that sell or award fraudulent degrees.
In 2005 Washington enacted a law that prohibits certificated educational staff in the K-12 system from using credits earned from an unaccredited institution to move up the salary schedule. A certificated staff who submits a degree from an unaccredited institution for the purpose of receiving a pay increase shall be: (1) fined $300 by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and (2) required to pay back any increased compensation received due to the degree.
Summary of Substitute Bill:
The bill requires that a degree granting institution operating in Washington: (1) be accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the United States Department of Education; (2) have an application for accreditation pending; or (3) have been granted a waiver or exemption by the HECB from the accreditation requirement.
This bill prohibits offering "false or misleading" degrees. A degree is "false or misleading" if it falsely suggests that the person named in the degree or document has completed the requirements for an academic or professional program, when in fact the person has not done so. The HECB or a court may impose a penalty of up to $1,000 on anyone who claims to have a degree that is false or misleading.
The bill limits how a person awarded a degree from an institution of higher education that is not authorized by the HECB, accredited, or granted a waiver or exemption by the HECB may indicate in writing that he or she has the degree. In such a case, the person must clearly specify that the degree was awarded by an institution not authorized by the HECB or accredited. The HECB or court may impose a civil penalty of up to $1,000 on someone who violates this provision.
The terms "grant," "offer," and "operate" are defined. "Grant" means award, bestow, confer, convey, sell or give. "Offer" means, in addition to its usual meanings, advertise, publicize, or solicit. To "operate" means to offer for degree credit courses (including via correspondence or electronically) to any Washington location, to grant or offer to grant degrees in Washington, or to maintain or advertise a Washington location, address, computer server, or telephone number (except for the purpose of communicating with alumni).
Substitute Bill Compared to Original Bill:
The original bill required that a violation of the provisions of the bill be done "knowingly" or "willfully" before a violation could be found and penalties imposed. The substitute bill removes the requirement that the violation be committed knowingly or willfully.
Fiscal Note: Available.
Effective Date of Substitute Bill: The bill takes effect July 1, 2006.
Testimony For: Diploma mills cheapen real degrees that people work hard to obtain. False degrees also send a message to the public that degrees are cheap and easy to obtain. The law needs to protect consumers but also not put up roadblocks to legitimate institutions.
Testimony Against: None.
Persons Testifying: Representative Shabro; and Bruce Botka, Higher Education Coordinating Board.