By Bryan O'Keefe
In several blog postings, we have outlined instances of arrogance and general disregard for the public emanating from the higher education establishment.
Consider this another chapter in that volume.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a very good story detailing a legal fight between news organizations and PHEAA, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. According to the Post-Gazette story, the media would like access to records that provide "details of travel by PHEAA employees and board members, training and credit card spending as well as activity at meetings the board has held at posh resorts in several states."
Of course, PHEAA is fighting this disclosure in Court, claiming that releasing the information would provide it's competitors (mainly Sallie Mae) with "trade secrets." This defense is absurd. The media does not want access to specific information on PHEAA's financial aid formulas, or how they distribute aid. They only want access to information that could be potentially embarrassing to PHEAA, which is the real reason why they are fighting this in the first place. I strongly doubt that Sallie Mae is just dying to know how much PHEAA spends on fancy, schmancy conferences.
The whole episode however is important because it is yet another example of the complete lack of accountability in higher education finances. I think PHEAA does some important work (full disclosure, my freshmen year of college I receieved a PHEAA grant for about $400). But taxpayers, students, parents, the media, and lawmakers should know how PHEAA is spending it's money since the program is pubicly funded and very expensive. What exactly does PHEAA have to hide?
The entire case is before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court now. Stay tuned.