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Reinventing higher education

More stuff from last week to catch up on: Good luck with that.

The state’s higher education agency called Thursday for sweeping changes in policy, including a revised method of funding community colleges and public universities, a greater emphasis on merit for certain financial aid and a series of cost-cutting measures.

The proposals, which would require legislative action, come at a difficult time for higher education: Enrollment is surging just as the state’s finances are looking increasingly bleak.

The latest estimates put the overall shortfall at about $24 billion for the next two-year budget.

“We want to reinvent public higher education — reinvent it in a more cost-efficient way and reinvent it in a way that gives better academic results,” said Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes.

“And we think that we can do that. I’m sure we’ll need more financial resources over time, but not nearly as much as we would need if we didn’t change the way we deliver education.”

[…]

The recommendations on cost-cutting were developed for the coordinating board by a 20-member advisory panel of higher education leaders and business executives led by Fred W. Heldenfels IV , the board’s chairman. Perry issued an executive order last year directing the board to look for savings, and perhaps not surprisingly, some recommendations echo policies the governor has urged lawmakers to adopt in recent years.

The coordinating board wants 10 percent of the base funding for universities to be indexed to so-called “student outcomes,” such as graduation rates; total degrees awarded; degrees awarded to students from low-income families or those otherwise deemed at-risk; and degrees in science, technology, engineering, math and other fields considered high-priority.

Ten percent of community college funding would be on the basis of degrees awarded, certificates completed, college-level math course completions and other performance measures.

Currently, base funding is strictly a function of enrollment. Paredes said the recommendation was limited to 10 percent of base funding to avoid making draconian changes in the middle of a budget crisis. But that should be enough to prompt improvements, he said, and the percentage could be ramped up later.

These and other recommendations could save $4.2 billion over four years by raising graduation rates and achieving other cost efficiencies, Heldenfels said.

I’m sure anything that involves cost savings will get a hearing next spring. I’m less sure about the part where funding increases over time. Like I said, good luck with that.

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