Up to 80 Degrees at WVU May Be Suspect

Initial audit finds problems with 10 percent of the executive MBA's awarded by the university.
September 2, 2008

It turns out that you don't need to be the governor's daughter to get an unearned M.B.A. from West Virginia University.

The institution has endured considerable controversy since December over allegations -- first reported by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and since acknowledged as correct -- that Heather Bresch, a business executive and the daughter of West Virginia's governor, received an M.B.A. without earning it. The scandal has already resulted in several resignations, including that of the president at WVU.

Now it turns out that up to 80 degrees may have been awarded -- in the same program Bresch participated in before leaving without having finished her requirements -- even though graduates didn't meet requirements.

That figure comes from an internal audit of all students over the last 10 years in the university's executive M.B.A. program, and would represent about 10 percent of the degrees awarded through it. Experts on degrees have said throughout the WVU scandal that they did not think many degrees were awarded inappropriately, although since the West Virginia situation emerged, both Virginia Commonwealth University and Carnegie Mellon University have acknowledged awarding a degree to individuals who did not meet requirements.

West Virginia University has not released its internal audit, but The Charleston Daily Mail reported on the results based on an interview with William Trumbull, interim dean of the university's business school.

Trumbull was not available for comment this weekend, but Becky Lofstead, assistant vice president for university communications, confirmed the figures in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. The degrees in question are potentially faulty for a number of reasons, including people graduating without enough credit, questions about transfer credit that was awarded, and people being admitted and graduating without submitting GMAT scores, which are required for admission.

Lofstead acknowledged that "people are surprised" by how many degrees may be questionable. "It's a number that is somewhat concerning," she said.

While the university doesn't plan to release the internal audit, Lofstead said all of the materials were being turned over to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, which will conduct a larger inquiry into the degrees and also to practices at the university about awarding the degrees. When that review is done, and when any privacy issues are resolved, Loftstead said that the university planned to release information about all the investigations. She said that the university was strongly committed to "transparency" on the issue.

The latest revelations are renewing calls in the state for more reform of the university. "In trying to digest all of this, it seems like it really comes back to a situation where the rules and guidelines which were followed were about as flexible as a glob of Silly Putty," said an editorial in The Register-Herald, a Beckley, W.V., newspaper. The editorial noted that after the Bresch degree scandal broke, "heads rolled, all the way to the top of the university," and suggested that "the results of this audit demonstrate that the housecleaning can’t nearly be over."


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