Amid rising concern that fraud rings are making off with millions of dollars of federal financial aid, some of the colleges most at risk have come up with one deterrent that is notable for its simplicity: They're assigning more coursework.
"These ringleaders, they are lazy," says James Berg, vice president of the Apollo Group, which owns Axia, a two-year program of the University of Phoenix. As of February, the company had referred more than 800 cases of fraud to the Education Department's office of inspector general.
The company stumbled onto the solution after it mandated a three-week orientation program a few years ago to help enrollees assess whether they're ready for the rigors of college. It also weeded out scammers, who had to complete the course to get the aid.
The American Association of Community Colleges, in a report last month offering strategies to prevent abuses, similarly suggested that faculty require substantive classroom activity in the first few weeks of class to "monitor whether students are authentically engaged in the learning environments."
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