If you attend a public college or university, check to see if your state auditor’s office has done any audits of your school. An audit is an official inspection of financial accounts and sometimes uncovers financial mismanagement, embezzlement or other types of shenanigans. You can find your state auditor’s database online by Googling it. The screenshot below of the website for the more than $350,000 in fraud by the postal services manager. And a search of the word “university” in the California State Auditor’s website turns up a report on how the University of California had systematically been admitting fewer in state high school students in favor of out-of-state students who pay higher tuition.
Think you have a story idea? Develop a premise.
The premise is your hypothesis. It is a statement based on a guess. A good premise is based on some fact you discovered or observation you made, or conclusion you came to after reading a news story or hearing some complaints from people. It isn’t information you can base a story on. But is information that helps you formulate a guess.
A premise is a statement.
Let’s say you are reading over the university budget and you see a line item for deferred maintenance of $2.3 million. That’s a lot of repairs that haven’t been made. From that you can made a guess that some of these repairs might be serious. And from that you can conclude that that school might be jeopardizing student safety by pushing off needed repairs. So craft that into a statement:
The administration is putting student safety at risk by prioritizing other financial needs over needed repairs.
Or let’s say the administration put out a press release that says that it has now balanced its budget for three years in a row and no cuts to staffing or classes are needed and the school won’t have to raise tuition. You know that that had been a problem for many years before the three years in question. But then you recall that students have been complaining for some time about rising student fees and you remember that the school created a new student fee back in December. So here you might come up with this premise:
The university is balancing its budget without tuition increases by pushing off expenses onto students through increased student fees.
The premise needs to be something that can be proven or disproven.
A well-crafted premise will help you focus your investigation. Keep in mind, though, that as you gather information from human sources and documents, you will likely change your premise. In a long, complicated investigation, the premise you end with might be very different from the premise you started with.
Request budget allocations for student clubs
Most colleges and universities have a gazillion student clubs funded by student fees. My undergraduate school, Union College, with only 2200 students has more than 100 student clubs. Penn State, with some 40,000 students, has more than 1,100 clubs. Request a list of allocations from the student government to these clubs. Which ones get the most money? What do they get the money for? Are they required to report the number of members? Do a per capita analysis. Which clubs get the most money per member?