Mará Rose Williams

A prove-it-or-lose-it plan for college funding

Updated: 2014-02-05T05:44:28Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

Considering the billions that Missouri allocates to its public colleges and universities every year, $42 million seems like small potatoes.

But it’s an amount worth watching this year because the way that money is being doled out could eventually change the way higher education is funded.

Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget recommendation for fiscal 2015 sets aside $42 million of new money that he thinks should go to colleges based on how well they perform. It’s the second year that a portion of the state’s higher-education funding would be allocated with such strings attached.

The amount he’s recommending is $17 million more than was appropriated last year. If a school shows growth in any one of five performance areas, it gets one-fifth of the new dollars designated for it. The better the school does, the more it gets.

As improved performance is rewarded, a school could see its core funding climb year after year. That’s quite an incentive to improve performance, and that’s the idea.

At four-year public colleges, student retention and six-year graduation rates are being measured. Considered too is whether the school is adequately spending on instruction, scholarships and institutional grants.

Two-year schools have other measures to meet, including the percentage of students progressing out of remedial education.

The state is looking for schools to show improvement in quality of education, finances, affordability, access and students’ completion of their higher education.

Based on a state formula for gauging school performance, 100 percent of the state’s four-year schools met three of the five measures last year. Only 40 percent of them met all five.

“Performance funding is part of the national mantra, and this is about results,” said John Jasinski, president at Northwest Missouri State, which for the second year hit all five performance measures.

Performance-based funding is a popular plan among policymakers who have long questioned throwing billions at higher-education institutions that have had no obligation to prove they were doing a good job.

A prove-it plan for the nation is already taking shape in Washington.

President Barack Obama is putting conditions of performance on federal money that colleges get. By 2015, students who choose schools that prove high performance will have access to larger federal grants.

Most college presidents have voiced no objection to performance-based funding. But who among them could justify not standing behind the education they provide when they charge so much for it?

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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