We discussed the issue of linking college funding to completion rates a while back after I saw a presentation on the Tennessee higher ed reform plan that uses completion as a funding criteria for its public campuses.
Now, Gov. Nathan Deal wants to bring that strategy to Georgia in hopes of boosting the attention colleges pay to helping students finish.
Held to that new standard, I suspect that colleges will start echoing the complaint of high schools: They can’t be held responsible for individual choices or failings of students and that the students at Georgia Tech start college at a more advanced level than the students at Clayton State and gaps in grad rates reflect those different starting points.
Deal is in the final process of selecting members to serve on a commission that will recommend changes that would allow Georgia to join a growing number of states that have moved away from funding colleges based solely on how many students they enroll. Instead, states are experimenting with tying the money to outcomes such as graduation and retention rates. The idea is to reward colleges for success, not for chasing enrollment.
States further along than Georgia have learned changing the funding formula is a lengthy and difficult process sure to provoke sharp political and emotional debates. While the discussions may start with a committee, it needs buy-in from lawmakers, college presidents and others.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has discussed its challenges with officials from the University System of Georgia and the State Board of Regents. Tennessee has used performance funding since 1979, but the amount of incentive money was small and resulted in little improvement in graduation rates. Officials overhauled the program in 2010 and now enrollment plays no role in how much money colleges receive. Colleges earn state money by reaching benchmarks in graduation, retention rates and others areas.
“We’ve moved away from the entitlement mentality,” said Russ Deaton, the commission’s associate executive director of fiscal policy. “If you don’t do well by your students you will lose money to colleges who are doing well.”
Some worry a focus on completion may lead to grade inflation and could punish community colleges, such as Georgia Perimeter College, that enroll more part-time students who start college less prepared. Tennessee and other states tried to solve that problem by designing benchmarks tailored to each college’s mission. Research institutions, such as University of Georgia, have different expectations than Georgia Perimeter.
When Deal announced his plans for the commission in August he said the state is spending a lot money on colleges and “it doesn’t do a lot of good” if students don’t graduate. About 44 percent of university system students graduate within six years. Rates vary widely, with about 80 percent graduating within six years from University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, compared with less than one-third getting a degree on time from Augusta State and Clayton State universities.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog