Louisiana Higher Education Funding May Become Accountability-Based

The Louisiana State Senate will consider a measure that would link higher education funding to college performance, The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. The bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee earlier this week with members signing on to the proposal to put more pressure on public colleges and universities to raise their student retention and graduation rates.

Senate Bill 117 would authorize the creation of a 15-member panel that would be charged with developing the metrics by which the state's public universities' performances are to be judged for funding purposes. The final proposals would then go before the Board of Regents who would have the final say over the implementation.

Although the list of the criteria hasn't been finalized, nor how much each would weigh on the final funding decisions, the bill calls for the schools to focus on timely graduation, dedicating resources to STEM majors, graduation rates and the the graduates' potential future earnings.

"What we are doing is asking to move to an outcomes-based funding model…for that portion of the university's funding that is the state appropriation," Appel, who also chairs the committee, said at Wednesday's meeting.

Around 60 percent of public university funding comes from tuition, fees and other self-generated sources while 40 percent comes from the state.

According to the Times-Picayune, since high tech manufacturing and jobs in energy production are vital to the state's economic future, colleges that manage to produce more specialists in those fields and in the fields of computer science, engineering and mathematics are likely to get better access to state funding than those that do not.

As Jim Purcell – he Commissioner of Higher Education – put it, Louisiana public colleges should work to produce employees in high demand upon graduation. He also pointed out that people who think of funding as a zero-sum game are being wrong-headed as it is highly unlikely that a new focus on STEM would really damage the schools' liberal arts programs.

"There's always a balance. Certainly we want to make sure we offer the whole plethora of higher education experience to students in the state. At the same time, state institutions have a function of trying to address the workforce and economic needs of the state. So, to me, it is wise for us to reward institutions for addressing those areas," Purcell said after the meeting.

While committee members raised concerns over whether the 15-member board would be able to agree on a funding mechanism, Appel said he did not foresee this to be a problem as he had already spoken with all the stakeholders and they agree on the need for such a discussion.

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