In Illinois, members of the public have a right to request information about the actions that government entities, public employees and other officials undertake. The state’s Freedom of Information Act gives people the power to seek records and other relevant information from any of these parties. Under the Act, The Chicago Tribune recently sued College of DuPage to obtain financial records relating to potential misconduct.
The community college, which receives about $165 million per year from property taxes and other state financing, is currently under investigation for various actions. Since 2009, the college’s president and administrators have reportedly charged the school over $190,000 for food and alcohol consumed at one campus establishment. The college’s foundation has also allegedly given non-competitive contracts to its own members. A federal grand jury and a DuPage County grand jury have both issued subpoenas seeking documents relating to these practices.
The Tribune recently requested the release of similar documents and the subpoenas. However, the college declined the request on the grounds that the college’s foundation holds many of the relevant records. According to college representatives, the foundation is not a governmental entity and therefore is not required to honor requests for information. The Tribune maintains that the college must comply because public college employees oversee the foundation, which frequently performs governmental duties for the college.
Through the recently filed lawsuit, The Tribune is seeking the immediate release of the requested documents. State and federal authorities are also still investigating the college’s actions, spending and internal oversight. If administrators do not consent to cooperate with a state audit, the college could ultimately face withholding of state funding.
The potential misuse of public college funding is a significant concern today, given the increase in tuition costs and associated student debt. Public funding cuts are often cited as a reason for these growing costs. However, The New York Times recently reported that the public funding colleges and universities receive has actually increased over several decades. Per capita funding has dropped slightly, but this cannot explain sharply rising tuition costs. Increases in administrative expenses, however, may help account for these cost changes.
According to data from the Department of Education, the number of administrative positions at colleges and universities across the country rose 60 percent from 1993 to 2009. This was more than 10 times the rate of growth that faculty positions underwent during the same time. The creation of these new positions might be necessary due to increases in college enrollment and overall student populations. However, this change also may drive rising costs. Salaries and other administrative expenses may contribute substantially to the financial burden students face, especially when these costs are poorly monitored or misappropriated.