Why Support the Higher Education Transparency Act?

February 01, 2011

Support Financial TransparencyThis week, Massachusetts residents have an opportunity to advance the movement for economic justice in the Bay State by urging their state representatives and senators to support the Higher Education Transparency Act.

Massachusetts' private colleges and universities, which are designated as non-profit organizations, enjoy tax exempt status while also receiving direct federal and state subsidies. That's because of their primary functions—to educate and to provide opportunities and services to their communities.

And yet, we too often witness the same taxpayer-subsidized institutions—some with multi-billion dollar endowments—engaging in profit-motivated behaviors, such as tuition hikes, casino-like investing and layoffs.

Also, as this rececession forces average American workers and their families to "tighten their belts," the leaders of some of these colleges and universities are being paid over a million dollars a year. 

Economic recovery requires shared sacrifice.

This bill would strengthen the financial disclosure requirements for Massachusetts’ private, non-profit colleges and universities by mandating more thorough reporting on employee compensation; how endowments are invested; agreements with outside consultants, and the total tax subsidies they receive.

Additionally, it would give the public and the legislature a way to evaluate the financial choices being made by institutions of higher learning, and the values under which they operate.

Here is a summary of the provisions of the Higher Education Transparency Act:

  • Affects private, nonprofit colleges and universities and their related organizations who have investments (defined as value of, not interest on) or real property over $10 million dollars;
  • Requires the schools to calculate the received benefit from all tax exemptions;
  • Mandates individual conflict-of-interest disclosures by trustees or directors of the institution;
  • Mandates disclosure of payments of greater than $150,000/year to outside individuals or firms for advice or services;
  • Mandates disclosure of payments of greater than $150,000/year from outside individuals or firms for advice or services;
  • Mandates disclosure of the names and titles of anyone making more than $250,000 year;
  • Requires the Attorney General to set the method and scope by which tax calculations and disclosures are done;
  • Requires disclosure of the names, amounts, and descriptions of services provided to and from vendors.

Our friends at SEIU Local 615, which represents janitors, security workers, and other property service workers in MA, RI, and NH, are leaders in the fight for this rule change to hold private, non-profit colleges and universities in Massachusetts accountable. Visit their campaign page for more ways to get involved.

If you want to add your voice to this campaign, be sure to call your elected officials by Friday, February 4th! (Click here to find your elected officials.)

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