Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Less Secrecy Por Favor

by Andrew Gillen

I recently called out accreditors and the government for their reliance on secrecy, so it's only fair to give colleges the same treatment. I’ve often asked myself why information on higher ed practices, even uncontroversial ones, is so hard to find. I keep coming away with the conclusion that it must be because it is in the interests of the institutions for it to be that way.

This doesn’t seem to be a unique problem – consider financial disclosure. As former SEC chairmen Hills, Pitt and Ruder write
we are well aware of the long-held desire of commercial interests to avoid fully disclosing their finances. In the 1990s, business interests opposed publicly disclosing their post-employment pension and health obligations. Similarly, in 2000, efforts were made to prevent the FASB from eliminating distortions that inflated the balance sheet values of newly merged companies, because its elimination might make balance sheets look less favorable to potential investors…
I view the higher ed equivalents of these as resistance to things like a federal student unit record system, pretty much anything that allows comparisons to be made, or anything that reveals the priorities of colleges such as disclosing course loads.

How do they deal with this in finance?
investors rely heavily upon the integrity of corporate financial reports prepared in accordance with accounting standards established by the independent Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)…
Now, I’m not entirely convinced that setting up an eduversion of the FASB would be the best way to deal with this, but I’m pretty sure it would be a lot better than what we have now.

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