General Assembly may use graduation rates to allocate funds

(From The Louisville Cardinal)

By Rae Hodge–

The Kentucky General Assembly will discuss using graduation rates to apportion state funding to colleges.

The Legislative Research Commission says, “The purpose of student outcomes-based performance funding is to connect a portion of the state allocations to specific results in order to provide tangible institutional incentives to improve student outcomes. If an institution meets its goals, it automatically receives the funds linked to the performance measures.”

The publication, available online at the LRC website, cites the Council on Postsecondary Education, saying the move toward performance-based funding will spur students to graduate more quickly. Though it did not pass, the website explains, “Senate Bill 37 introduced in the 2011 Regular Session would have required public postsecondary education institutions to improve the rate of student completion of bachelor’s degrees.”

The publication goes on to specify the proposed implementation methods of such a bill, reading, “The General Assembly could require the Council on Postsecondary Education to work with the post-secondary institutions to set and meet student outcomes-based performance goals as part of an incentive funding model.

In such a funding model, the allocation would be available as a reward above the base funding level that an institution would already receive.

Assessment of each indicator could be based on the institution reaching a specific target, such as a specified graduation rate, or the institution demonstrating a specific rate of improvement, such as a specific increase in the percentage of degrees awarded.”

Critics of this proposal argue that outcome-based funding fails to recognize the impact of university research on the state’s economy. Council members argue the legislation could provide incentives for grade inflation and emphasize quantity over quality. One method of quality control that has been discussed by students, should the legislation pass, is the possibility of standardized testing.

Martin Watkins, a junior political science major at the University of Louisville argues that “standardized testing would be one solution to use in decreasing grade inflation if that became a problem in these types of situations.” He goes on to note, though, “However, standardized testing, itself, is crazy. There are students who don’t test well, and still isn’t an accurate picture of the overall learning outcome. It only shows one piece of the puzzle.”

Wes Starr, a junior computer information systems major, says testing “would be a great idea to weed out students who come to school just to live the college life. The results would weed out these people so that others, who need the help from that state funding but can’t get it, actually could.”

Starr said, “There’s a possibility that some teachers would start just teaching to cover the test content, and then you would have a situation where no matter what school you went to, you would have the exact same education.”

The LRC publication concludes with a second potential funding model that reflects the concern to maintain learning outcomes despite incentives for potential grade inflation, but also threatens to decrease funding in some circumstances.

“General Assembly [would] require the council to set and meet student outcomes-based performance goals as part of a base funding model. A base funding model would include student outcomes performance metrics as part of the funding formula. Therefore an institution would need to meet its goals in order to receive its entire base allocation, or be penalized accordingly.”

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