Open Campus road trip route

First, a little bit about how and why we’ve started Open Campus. Then we’re seeking your road trip advice. And, yes, parents are giving up custody of their children to game the financial-aid system.

How we got here and why we’re sticking around

A dialogue in which Sara and Scott explain just how we ended up in your inbox and why we’re sticking around:

Sara: A reporting job covering higher education wasn’t something either of us specifically set out to get. Beats like city government, politics, and criminal justice were the more-typical paths. But then we each ended up at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Scott: Originally, I was just trying to move back to the East Coast from Albuquerque. And I wanted to write stories.

Sara: I wanted to cover public policy as it affected some group of human beings, instead of just writing about the sausage-making on the Hill, as I was doing in my first real journalism job.

Scott: At first I covered professors and graduate students — eventually became an editor and got to learn about all parts of the system. Along the way, I came to realize there was nothing small or narrow about higher ed. It touched on nearly everything in American life.

Sara: On any given week, I found myself editing stories about gender and race and economic divides. About the burdens of debt, the toll of toxic leaders, and big gaps in who colleges were helping and who they were leaving behind. There were cheaters and liars, and innovators and dreamers.

Scott: I would joke with people that yes, I worked at a trade publication — but it wasn’t Plumber’s Supply Weekly or Fast Casual Dining News. It was a niche to be sure, but one that felt more like the Grand Canyon than a narrow ravine. I came to appreciate just how sprawling and multifaceted this world of colleges was. And I came to see that I was covering a part of our society that is incredibly important; a part that, at its best, transforms lives. It’s a force that creates knowledge, educates citizens, and helps power our economy.

Sara: In short, we grew to care deeply about higher education. That’s why we’re here. We want to do more to help more Americans in more places connect with their colleges and understand how they are shaping their communities. We see higher ed as a public good. We want to hold colleges to that standard.

Scott: We’ve created Open Campus to do just that. (You can read more about our big idea here.) Today we want to welcome you to this new weekly newsletter. Here’s our plan:

Sara: This email will go out every Friday. It will include original reporting, focused on issues of inequality and the importance of place. We’ll spotlight good accountability reporting on higher ed from around the country. And we’ll let you know what we’ve been up to. We’re here to start a conversation, too, so don’t hold back. Tell us what you think!

The Open Campus Back-to-School Tour

We’re hitting the road to talk with Americans about college. Later this month, we’ll drive from Minneapolis to New Orleans, roughly following the path of the Mississippi. Along the way, we’ll stop in big cities, farming towns, and the places in between to hear from regular people about their complicated relationships with their colleges. We know that confidence is falling in higher education, and we want to learn more about why.We want to add new voices to the conversation. We hope they’ll help us understand more about what’s working about college, what’s not, and what could possibly make a difference.We’ll be writing about our trip from the road, so we hope you’ll follow along. And we want your ideas: Where should we stop? Who should we make a point to talk to? What should we be sure to see? Please send us your thoughts (and any road-trip tips, too): and


Each week we’re highlighting the types of coverage and analysis that we think we need more of: investigative stories about colleges, thoughtful analysis about the challenges facing higher ed, enterprising projects that hold the entire system to account.

Parents Are Giving Up Custody of Their Kids to Get Need-Based College Financial Aid The most jaw-dropping investigative story of the week came from ProPublica. Jodi S. Cohen and Melissa Sanchez revealed that dozens of Chicago area parents have exploited a loophole by turning over guardianship of their teenagers to friends or relatives. Then the student declares financial independence and qualifies for more financial aid. (ProPublica)

See their follow up stories as well:

All public universities get private money, but some get much more than the rest Kevin McClure, a professor of higher education at UNC Wilmington and prolific Twitter commentator, offers a good look at the role of fundraising at public colleges (how the public doesn’t realize how much is going on and how private donations are a poor substitute for state support). (The Conversation)

Here’s Proof Ole Miss Knew Identities of Two Students Who Posed in Front of Shot-Up Emmett Till Sign, But Did Little After the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica started asking questions, the University of Mississippi interim chancellor acknowledged that a communications “breakdown” stalled a full inquiry into the incident. (ProPublica)

Reed Students Find Glaring Discrepancy in US News Rankings Fascinating analysis by Reed College students for a statistics class casts doubt on whether US News rankings are fairly handling the college, which has long refused to cooperate with the rankings. (Reed Magazine)

The University of Michigan invested big in Detroit. Now come the evictions. (Bridge Magazine)

The $70,000-a-Year Liberal Arts College Just Won’t Die (Bloomberg)

We’re All Ears

As we launch this new venture each day is exhilarating (and, sure, a little frightening). The best part: we get to talk to new people constantly. We’re meeting with foundations. We’re talking with other nonprofit news organizations. And we’re interviewing higher ed leaders. We’d love to hear from you. Let us know what you think we should be doing, who we should be talking to, and stories we should be pursuing. You can reach us both at One more request: please share our weekly newsletter with other people you think would be interested. They can sign up here.

Co-founder and editor-in-chief of Open Campus