No college degree fraud found in Wisconsin State Legislature …but we couldn’t check everybody


Lying about receiving a degree you never earned is pretty easy. For the most part, so is verifying it.

In a 2015 survey of employers by the company CareerBuilder, 28 percent reported having caught a job seeker lying about an academic degree on their resume.

Some politicians aren’t above exaggerating or outright lying about earning academic degrees.

A state senator in Iowa, Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, made national news last year when he was caught claiming he had earned a business degree, but in fact had completed only a training certificate from a California company that ran a Sizzler.

By contacting universities and academic institutions, we attempted to verify the educational claims made by more than 100 Wisconsin state legislators, to see if anyone in our own legislature was fiddling with the truth.

In perhaps a positive and surprising outcome for such cynical times, nearly everyone checked out.

The highest number of degrees in the legislature come, unsurprisingly, from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, with 35. At least 12 have degrees from the UW – Milwaukee, and ten have degrees from Marquette University

Most of the UW system is represented, as well as Big Ten schools like Michigan State (Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah – B.S., 1980 and M.S., 1982), Iowa (Rep. Patrick J. Snyder, R-Schofield – B.A., 1978), and the University of Minnesota (several).

Other big schools that educated our elected officials include the University of Southern California (Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha – M.P.A., 1992) and the University of Florida (Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake – J.D., 2004). Academic powerhouses like the University of Chicago (Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee – B.A., 2009) and the University of Pennsylvania (Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison – B.A., 1990) are also represented.

However, some schools have outsourced their degree verification to a third-party company, which places a hurdle in front of those trying to verify degrees with a $15 fee. In a counterproductive strategy, others flat-out refuse to verify degrees without consent from the person claiming to have earned it, essentially preventing liars from being outed.

The following schools refused to verify degrees and directed us to that third-party company or refused us altogether.

Carroll University, Waukesha, WI (Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, claims B.A., 2008)

Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire, WI (Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, claims degree in construction management, 1997)

State University College of New York at Buffalo (Rep. Thomas Weatherston, R-Caledonia, claims B.S., 1977)

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

Categories: Investigations, Politics

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