Who Do University Police Report To?

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Most large schools of higher education employ their own school security personnel, who often take the place of local police officers on campuses and have similar responsibilities. State colleges and universities are state entities, and private colleges and universities receive government funds. States have public records laws, much like the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), requiring government bodies to provide records to citizens and press. However, courts and administrative bodies have not resolved whether colleges and universities and their contractual agents—like the campus police—are covered by public record laws, leading to situations where some students are protected at the expense of others and the public at large.

On January 15th, ESPN filed a lawsuit against the University of Notre Dame alleging the school is violating Indiana’s public record laws by withholding police incident reports linked to student-athletes involved in potential campus crimes. The university claims their security personnel are not required to provide these records because they are employed by the university rather than a government agency. Indiana administrative rulings and court decisions have not consistently ruled on whether university and college security police are covered by these laws.

During this same period, ESPN requested similar records from the Tallahassee Police Department. On December 24th, the Tallahassee Police Department released hundreds of records involving Florida State University athletes. The request was related to a story in the New York Times documenting an automobile hit-and-run incident taking place in the early hours of October 5, 2014, the day after a FSU football game victory. The driver of one of the cars was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who hit another car driven by a teenager on his way home from work. Both cars were totaled. Instead of waiting at the accident scene, Winston and his two passengers, also athletes, left the car and fled.

The incident happened off-campus, and the Tallahassee police reached out to university police and its athletic department. The outcome: Although the athletes fled the scene, Winston was driving on a suspended license, and there was evidence of alcohol consumption by the athletes, police dismissed the episode as “too minor” to file a report or enter the accident on the police online database.

Reporters request university and college records for reasons beyond activities of students. In the fall of 2014, a University of Delaware student newspaper reporter attempted to get information on the university’s plan to partner with a private company to build a large power plant. Delaware public information laws exempt public universities, therefore the reporter was unable to get any information on the university’s activities. The outcome: University activities remain unchecked and the student reporter was unable to learn how to utilize state public record requests, although she did learn their limitations.

Pennsylvania public information laws have similar exemptions as Delaware’s. Last June, the Pennsylvania senate unanimously passed legislation to limit these exemptions. Not surprisingly, these efforts were met by heavy lobbying activities by the state’s universities and colleges.

One state with broad public information laws is Michigan. Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act explicitly covers public colleges and universities. Exemptions in the law are very specific, protecting individual students’ loan records, general testing documents, and even some materials related to applications of those interested in becoming a school’s president.

Many universities and colleges are the size of towns or small cities. Rarely does a bright line separate a campus from the town it’s connected to, and there’s even less of a line defining school police jurisdiction. Without public record law requirements, university and college activities are easily hidden, creating potential conflict of interest and less security for all.

Original cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/25508-who-do-university-police-report-to.html

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Free Community College for All

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Last Friday, President Obama announced a new plan to provide two years of free community college for most Americans. Under the plan, federal and state governments will pay student tuition costs during the first two years at a community college. If implemented, the plan would affect nine million students and enhance the focus on community colleges as well as expand workers’ skills without increasing the education debt many students carry. Further details of the plan will be announced during the president’s State of the Union Address on January 20th.

According to the president, in the next few years, the numbers of jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to increase twice as fast as those that do not require college courses. His plan to provide free tuition to students for two years is estimated to cost six billion dollars. The federal government would be responsible for three quarters of tuition cost; states would be responsible for the remaining quarter and students would be responsible for books, housing, and any other fees. Additionally, the neediest of students could continue to apply for Pell Grants to help fund other expenses.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, tuition and fees at the average community college total $3,347. This figure represents slightly more than twenty percent of students’ community college expenses. Total expenses are about $16,325. Students eligible to participate in the president’s plan must maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average, be enrolled at least part-time, and be progressing toward a degree or transfer to a four-year school.

The plan would increase the number of students at community colleges. Currently, more than six million students are enrolled in community college, and that number is already expanding significantly. At the same time, due to the recession, many states have decreased the amount of funds directed toward their community college system. The American Association of Community College estimates that in 2012, students paid $16.7 billion in tuition and fees, representing nearly thirty percent, and the largest portion, of community college revenue. Last month, the Government Accountability Office released a report finding that student tuition and fees surpassed state funds as the largest source of public college revenue.

If the president’s plan were enacted, the number of students transferring to four-year institutions from community colleges would also increase. This increase could promote additional communication between community and four-year colleges, leading to more credits transferring, more timely graduations, and less debt. Last year, House Democrats reported about fifteen percent of students transferring from community colleges lost at least ninety percent of their course credits.

By creating a benefit available to all students, the plan has a stronger likelihood of broad-based support. But the expanded benefit also subsidizes students with higher incomes, who could likely afford paying community college tuition. Additionally, many states, like California, have already developed low-tuition community college systems; therefore, the president’s plan is not directed to the students with the greatest need. The president announced his plan in Tennessee, where there is a similar program. The Tennessee program is funded by lottery revenue. Recently, a similar plan was announced in Chicago. That program will cover books and fees as well as tuition, and is also offered to undocumented students.

Not surprisingly, the president’s plan is already facing opposition by Republicans, including Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, the new head of the Senate’s education committee.

More plan details will follow as the president prepares for his State of the Union speech and releases his budget for coming year.

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Original cite: https://nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/25427-free-community-college-for-all.html