University System Moving To Fund Schools Based On Graduation Rates

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The State of Georgia will be taking a hard look at college graduation rates with an eye toward tweaking the funding formula for the University System of Georgia.  Currently, the main driver for the state funds contributed to each institution within the system is college enrollment.  Governor Nathan Deal is currently working with Chancellor Hank Huckabee to create a formula that sets each schools funding based on how many students each school manages to have students leave with diplomas rather than to see how many they can attract to campus each fall.

Huckabee, a former state legislator, was appointed Chancellor in large part because the legislature and Governor wanted someone from within their ranks who understood the budgets of the system schools could not continue to grow faster than the rate of inflation, and – equally importantly – the rate of growth in tax revenues and HOPE scholarship funds.

The funding tweak, however, is not being billed so much as an attempt to control the growth of expenses from the University system, but rather to make sure Georgia’s taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment, and that schools are actually achieving their core mission.

Initial skepticism to the change in approach appears to be centered on whether this would just turn schools into diploma mills, with schools encouraged to lessen graduation standards in order to continue to maximize receipt of state dollars.  A friend of mine who is a University System employee scoffed at the notion, and explained it in generally layman’s terms of how this move would likely be better.

Each school already has an academic program that is reviewed by an outside accreditation agency.  That will continue, including the graduation requirements under each program for each school.  Thus, to increase the number of students who graduate by passing more students, each school would have to “encourage” tenured faculty to lower their standards and move more students through the pipeline than they currently do.

My friend asked how many tenured professors I knew. Well, we’ll call it more than a few of them.  And knowing them and their reaction to ultimatums from on high, I understand his reasoning. To put a finer point on it, he continued with another question:  If you wanted to game the system to increase funding for your school, which would be easier to do; Get your entire faculty to lower their standards and pass students or inflate grades for those who are underserving, or hire two or three admissions officials who are more than willing to look the other way on admissions standards if enrollment goals aren’t being met?

I accept his logic.  More importantly, I accept this goal.

College is becoming prohibitively expensive these days.  There are too many students graduating with five or six figures of student debt and limited job prospects.  Under this scenario, they appear to be the lucky ones.  Less than half of the students who enroll in the University system graduate within 6 years.  Presumably, many of them also leave with student debt, yet no diploma to improve their prospects for employment beyond their high school diploma.

The change in approach is based on a sound goal.  More students who enter a college or university in Georgia need to leave with a diploma.  More importantly, there needs to be an increased focus on linking the degrees offered to employment opportunities here in the state.  This would ensure that not only the students are well served, but the taxpayers receive a return on their investment as well.

To that end, an additional sweetener should be included as the funding formula is revised.  Colleges and universities should receive additional funds based on the percent of graduates who have found work in their field within 6 months of graduation.

If we’re trying to focus on the real goals, let’s go ahead and get that specific.

19 comments

  1. Rambler14 says:

    “To that end, an additional sweetener should be included as the funding formula is revised. Colleges and universities should receive additional funds based on the percent of graduates who have found work in their field within 6 months of graduation.”

    The goal of our USG should not be to produce diplomas.
    It should be to train & educate future generations to become capable entry-level employees in their given field. The diploma should NOT be the metric to determine funding.

  2. jakey says:

    I understand the logic behind this – and I agree that we should be focusing more on completion rather than the number of students sitting in seat. But there are a few problems. And a better solution. I will start with the solution first, and then list the problems.

    1. We should make the HOPE Scholarship conditional loan. Students will take out no-interest loans from the State of Georgia – and once they complete their degree, the loans will be forgiven. If they do not finish their degree, they will have to pay the loans back. If drop out of school, they have to start paying the loan back – if they return to school and get their degree, they will have their loans forgiven. This encourages people to stay in school, finish their degree, and return to school if they drop out. If you finish your degree, it is still paid for by HOPE. If you drop out and don’t return, you get nothing from the state. Personal responsibility at its finest. (This would also help sustain HOPE funding, which is another reason to support it).

    Now the problems:

    1. Not all schools are designed to give degrees. Georgia Perimeter and Gainesville College are “feeder schools.” IE, student take classes there and then transfer to a larger institution. These colleges would be hurt while the big 4 would be helped. Its not fair to smaller colleges.

    2. What about the students in high school who are on HOPE ACCEL ? The will take classes at a school while in high school (paid for by HOPE), but the school will not get funding for it.

    3. It will hurt continued learning/professional schools. Say someone in the IT field needs to come back and learn a specific program language or a teacher is returning in the summer for some professional training? They will not “graduate,” but that learning is no less important to them or to Georgia’s overall workforce.

    I think what they are trying to do is good – increase graduation rates; however, I’m not sure this is the best method.

    • Lea Thrace says:

      I was very excited when I heard the proposal to tie funding to graduation. There were far too few people that started out freshmen year with me but were not there on graduation day (or the next four graduation days for that matter).

      That being said, your points have given me pause. Very good concerns. I hope there are adjustments that are being made to compensate for these issues that will likely arise.

  3. Trey A. says:

    Nice column, Charlie. I was hoping to read more about this after I heard news of it on the radio on Monday. While Jakey’s concerns about technical colleges and continuing education are legitimate, surely there are easy workarounds. (i.e. ways to fund those schools differently)

    I don’t agree with Jakey that making HOPE a conditional loan would be a good alternative to graduation-based funding. Even on HOPE, students drop out for a lot of reasons other than “lack of personal accountability.” Family issues, poverty, caring for a child are just a few. Nowadays, they too often fall through the cracks. Under this new funding scheme, schools will be incentivized to not allow that to happen.

    I think graduation-based funding is an excellent idea, for many of the reasons Charlie and his friend explained. It will compel colleges to shift resources to more directly help students stay in school.

    • jakey says:

      Well, there are some ways to deal with that.

      First, people who get a 2 year degree could also get their loans forgiven. So, if someone dropped out of school because of family or children or sickness, as long as they got an AA degree, they would still qualify as “graduating.” We could also work in other safeguards for people who legitimately need to drop out.

      What we have to do is stop paying 5-10k for someone to extend high school one year.

      • bowersville says:

        …work in other safeguards for people who legitimately need to drop out.

        Like activation of their National Guard or Army Reserve unit?

        • jakey says:

          Yes, I understand that things can happen. The idea is a general policy idea, we can work out the details once people understand the general policy

  4. seenbetrdayz says:

    If we increase graduation rates are we assuming that it is going to be easier for all these graduates to find jobs?

    Um . . . I’m not so sure that’ll work.

    • Lea Thrace says:

      No worries seen.

      1. Romney wins the presidency
      2. Jobs will immediately be created.
      .
      .
      .
      .
      7. Profit?

      At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me… 😀

      • seenbetrdayz says:

        Well, I’m not gonna comment on the candidates this time (I’ll end up going way off topic), but in terms of *policy* it would make more sense to *first* address the demand for graduates than it does to simply look at ways to increase the supply of graduates.

        Hypothetically, if you have 5,000 new positions opening up in this state every year with a need for college graduates, and you have 10,000 students graduating every year, and you’re worried about how to keep another 5,000 from dropping out so that you can graduate 15,000 per year, well . . . eventually someone’s gonna be working at McDonald’s with a Ph.D. in Physics, ’cause everyone and their cousin will have a degree. And in that case, they might as well have dropped out.

        • seenbetrdayz says:

          I thought we were gonna start focusing on technical school approaches in higher education. But, I guess the college lobby had something to say about that.

          • Lea Thrace says:

            Bingo.

            Also, the value of a college degree is slowly but surely being diluted. And I do not say that to mean that everyone should not have access to higher education. I mean access does NOT equal success. Not everyone is meant to be an chemistry major at UGA. Bubba or Bubbette may just be better off in the long run getting an HVAC degree at Chattahoochee Tech than struggling through 1 or 2 years at Kennesaw or GSU only to fail out after all is said and done.

            There needs to be betteer planning with respect to vocational and technical degrees. And that planning needs to start at the grade school level.

            • seenbetrdayz says:

              You know how the old joke goes:

              There was a story of a plumber being called to a doctor’s home to do some work. After working for about an hour, the plumber gave the M.D. a bill for $200. The doctor said, “Good Gracious Man! I have been to medical school and residency and have been practicing medicine for over 20 years and I can’t charge that kind of money!” The plumber smiled and said, “Yeah, I couldn’t either when I was in practice.”

  5. Blog Goliard says:

    Obviously Hank Huckabee is concerned that there’s not enough grade inflation or dilution of the curriculum at institutions of higher education in Georgia.

  6. saltycracker says:

    Very interesting. Setting metrics on a few narrow points guarantees manipulation. Funding based only on graduation or job finding misses some of the ideals of universities.

    Hope should be a conditional loan with forgiveness on graduation and some portion charged back to the college on non-completion within 6 years or some condition. Understanding graduation may not occur for no fault but there should be some risk to the student & the college in accepting the program.

    We should also keep in mind that the masses of jobs in the future are best served by vocational schools. Also, many are advantaging universities for additional knowledge/skills or to better our society. Thus we need a broad base of measurements in evaluating our colleges.

    We criticize the universities for not putting out employable people and the fault may well lie in what we demand of them. We should insure the career classes are not overshadowed while offering the personal interests subjects someone is willing to pay for. Nothing changes until we allow people to fail.

    I have not studied all the measurements used by US News to rate the colleges but maybe some funding answers are there:
    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/09/11/how-us-news-calculates-its-best-colleges-rankings

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