Investigate your school

That’s the advice from investigative reporters who cover higher education.

Here’s some tips on what to ask and look for:

  • All emails sent to your college president or athletic director. That will tell you about all the problems people complain about.
  • All public records of academic misconduct — ask for every case for the last five years.
  • A list of all public records requests. If lawyers are snooping for information because someone is thinking about suing, you will be able to get the same information.
  • Sponsored research contracts: If you are at a public university and the professors do research using any outside funding, you can get a copy of the funding agreement — what the money is to be used for, who is doing the funding and what, if anything, the funder gets in return.
  • The Form 990: That’s a form all non-profit private colleges must file with the IRS each year. They must also release it to the public upon request. On it they disclose how much they raise and spend, the people who are paid the most money, and all kinds of other nifty information. You can download a blank one for the year 2008 here. You can also get old Form 990s that your school filed atGuidestar. The service is free but you need to register.
  • The athletics budget: Athletics at your school is probably subsidized. You can find out where the money is coming from (student fees?) and how it is spent.
  • Retention rates: How many freshmen made it to sophomore year?
  • Six-year graduation rates: Compare it against other schools in your system or state.
  • Data from entrance and exit interviews: Many colleges interview students when they enter or graduate. You can find out what the school learns from these interviews.

And see if you can find phantom classes. Those are classes with high enrollment but no attendance that are designed to boost GPAs of athletes. When you try to visit you just get an empty class and there is no field trip of record.

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