Colorado Sets Goals for Colleges, Could Link Them to Funding

In the near future, appeals from the state government for Colorado's public university system to pay more attention to completion and dropout rates will have a little more weight behind them. According to Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, the state is currently considering a new higher education funding system that would penalize schools and withdraw funding from those that fail to raise their graduation rates.

Prior to now, public universities in Colorado were funded based on a formula that was based largely on enrollment numbers — and not on academic success. This week, the state Department of Higher Education will take the first step in changing all that when it releases a list of expectations for each of the schools in the system in the form of contracts that school administrators will be required to sign. Garcia, who heads up the DHE, says that the contracts will require the schools to report metrics like graduation rates and student retention each year for the next five years, with the expectations that those meeting targets set for them will be financially rewarded by an extra infusion of funds from the state.

Colorado is one of a handful of states attempting such an endeavor.

"We need to be thinking about two things," Garcia said. "How do we get more rural, low-income, minority students into higher ed, but more importantly, how do we help them graduate?"

The department will not be imposing the targets by fiat. Each set of metrics was developed in cooperation with the schools themselves to make sure that the goals set are both reasonable and reachable. That is why while the DHE is calling on the schools to produce more graduates in STEM fields – something which is of a great concern to the state's economy – there's no hard-and-fast numbers for the schools to hit. As Colorado School of Mines president Bill Scoggins explained, there's no point in pushing the schools to do more work in that direction when they are already putting a strong focus on achieving that goal.

But at the same time, Scoggins said, Mines can probably do a better job creating partnerships with area community colleges — something Adams already excels at.

Garcia said some schools have already started to put in the work, pointing to the University of Colorado's efforts to enroll and graduate more students of color and Metropolitan State University of Denver's push to improve graduation rates.

He added that the DHE is taking account of the fact that schools themselves are voluntarily embracing steps to make this a priority.

Yet for those that show that they are committed to hitting the targets set out in the contract, there might be some financial benefit if an improvement in the state economy leads to an increase in revenues. Currently, Colorado is spending $545 million a year on higher ed, but should that number ever go above $706 million, up to a quarter of anything over $650 million will be allocated based on how far the schools have come to reaching goals set out by the DHE contracts.

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