NEW YORK (MainStreet) – For-profit colleges accepted fraudulent high school diplomas and allowed rampant plagiarism to go unchecked in a undercover investigation carried out by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, conducted its investigation by enrolling students in 15 for-profit colleges. Many schools failed one key test right away: When investigators attempted to enroll students using fictitious high school diplomas, 12 of the 15 schools accepted the student.

The other key test looked at how the schools responded to the academic failure and dishonesty by having its undercover students plagiarize papers, cut class and turn in substandard work. While six of the schools that were tested “acted in a manner consistent with school policies” in addressing these issues, others fell short. At two of the colleges, the instructor called attention to plagiarized work but the school did not take action to remove the offending students, and instructors at four of the schools did not uphold grading standards. In fact, the report notes that “one student submitted photos of celebrities and political figures in lieu of essay question responses but still earned a passing grade.”

While the colleges were not named, the GAO report represents a clear warning to the for-profit college industry. And it’s not the first time the government has gone after schools for what it perceives as a failure to properly educate its students. In the spring, the Obama administration handed down new rules that withheld federal student aid to schools that fell short of certain academic criteria. Those rules particularly focused on schools that left graduates with poor job prospects and mountainous loan debt. Combined with this report, the government is building a narrative that suggests that many of these schools are more interested in building profits than holding students to high educational standards.

The for-profit college industry was quick to reject the report.

“The GAO’s report reflects only a tiny fraction of private sector schools and fails to give an accurate picture of this growing sector of higher education,” said Brian Moran, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, in a statement.

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