If you go to a private college or university…

…you aren’t entitled to records.

Only records at public universities or colleges are considered public records and fall under your state’s public records act. So does that mean you can’t get anything. Not necessarily. A 2009 Open Records Audit of more than 100 higher education institutions found a wide divergence in school transparency. But one surprising finding was that some private schools — which are exempt from public records laws — willingly released records, while many public schools flaunted public records laws. You can see the story the SPLC published at the time here. Form 990

But you are entitled to your school’s Form 990.

That’s a long form a not-for-profit organization must file with the IRS each year, if it raises more than $25,000 a year in funds. It has all kinds of information. There are a number of ways you can get the Form 990:

  1. You can ask your school for it. By law all filers of Form 900 must release it to the public upon request.
  2. You can go ProPublica. The non-profit investigative reporting outfit has a nifty database of info on non-profit organizations, including their Form 990s.
  3. You can go to GuideStar, a non-profit organization dedicated to transparency of charitable organizations.

If you are investigating a non-profit organization, including a private university or college getting a hold of the group’s Form 990 should be your first step.

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