New Research Calls for Greater Transparency Among Non-Profit Colleges

New research by Tellus Institute, the Boston-based nonprofit think tank, seeks to establish new standards of transparency among private non-profit colleges and universities. Tellus Institute’s research concentrates on the public money received by schools in the way of subsidies, tax exemptions, grants, and loans.
Despite receiving substantial financial support from tax payers, institutes of higher education need to be more transparent about how they calculate public benefits and how public money is used.Service Employee International Union (SEIU), the organization that commissioned the study, is calling on private non-profit schools to take on the responsibility of letting taxpayers know where their money is going. Colleges and universities act as major employers and engines of regional economic growth but in the era of economic austerity it is more important than ever that public resources be well spent and the social compact between these institutions and the public is working.

“Universities are subsidized with federal, state, and local dollars. We have a right to know how much the public is investing in these schools and what public benefits we are getting in return for our investment” says Wayne Langley of SEIU. “Private non-profits like Northeastern University can and should do more. Public subsidies, rising tuition, and crushing debt demand a greater amount of accountability.”

Boston’s Northeastern University is the focus of the research reported on in the July 7th edition of The Boston Globe. The university received $181.7 million in public support for the 2011 fiscal year according to Tellus Institute.

“In today’s age of big data, it’s shocking that schools still do not provide basic financial information that would allow the public to understand the full cost of the generous tax exemptions granted to private, nonprofit institutions of higher education,” stated Joshua Humphreys, fellow at Tellus Institute and principal investigator of the research.

“From a student’s perspective, financial transparency doesn’t exist at Northeastern University. We don’t have any voice or say about the funding structures. If you try to inquire, you’re unlikely to find answers” says Northeastern student Michael Marston.

The study comes in the wake of a debate about whether or not the public benefits enough from colleges and universities to merit government aid and tax-breaks.

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