1. How high are universities flying?

I was amazed to see this sentence in the piece the New York Times’s ever-amazing Jo Becker wrote last week about all the goodies outgoing Penn State football coach Joe Paterno negotiated in a new contract even as the Jerry Sandusky scandal was imploding around him: “He would also have the use of the university’s private plane…”

Penn State has a private plane? Sure, the school probably charters a jet when the team travels. But do the university executives have their own jet? How many other universities have perks like this?

As this article from Bloomberg.com documents, the relentless rise in higher education tuition and other costs has trapped students in debt from readily available student loans backed by us taxpayers. It is fast becoming a national scandal akin to the mortgage crisis. Which means we need some tough, fresh reporting finally holding university leaders accountable for spending and management efficiency.

According to news reports Penn State trustees raised tuition on the main campus last week by 2.9 percent. University officials bragged that this was the “lowest percentage tuition boost in 45 years and one of the smallest in the nation.” However, that raise followed a 4.9 percent increase the year before, and it exceeded the pace of inflation in any event. Sure, state aid to the school was cut, but a check of the university’s website reveals that the overall expense budget for the coming school year is still up $131 million, or 3.2 percent, over the year before, again outpacing inflation and despite those cuts in state aid. The overriding reality is that higher education remains a gold mine for reporters looking for waste and lack of accountability.

Air Paterno may be a good hook to get people interested. Which other schools have planes?