BOG looks to performance-based funding

As the Board of Governors (BOG) convened last week for its first meeting of the year following a tumultuous one in which $300 million in state funding was cut to the State University System (SUS), preparation for requesting funding for the next year began.

The BOG will request an additional $118 million from the Florida Legislature for the 2013-14 fiscal year to be distributed between the universities based on performance metrics as opposed to enrollment figures.

We can only force our students to pay extra more and more every year, BOG member Mori Hosseini said at the meeting. Were no longer going to give a carte blanche on a 15 percent (increase in tuition). Were going to be looking at return on investment.

While the BOG members held that no metrics have yet been determined, graduation and retention rates were a common refrain at Thursdays meetings. BOG member Thomas Kuntz said the Board was not looking to create a specific formula, but rather find metrics that they could look at in the context of each university.

USF, which lost close to $37 million in budget cuts this year, came under fire earlier this summer for its low graduation rates: In six years, only 51.1 percent of students graduate and in four years, only 35 percent. The University of Florida, Florida State University, New College and the University of Central Florida all topped USFs six-year graduation rates with 83.5 percent, 73.4 percent, 67.9 percent and 61.9 percent rates, respectively.

At the last USF Board of Trustees meeting, a student success presentation highlighted USFs efforts to identify obstacles to graduation, including performing analyses on grade distributions between courses, bringing more students to live on campus and facilitating environments conducive to graduating on time.

Performance-based funding, though, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said in an interview before the BOG meeting, is not a new phenomenon.

The BOG requested and received $15 million to allocate in performance-based funding for the 2012-13 fiscal year, based on Information Technology performance, and universities proposals for funding requests are due by the end of the month.

While performance-based funding has caught traction in other states such as Ohio, Illinois and Tennessee, the phenomenon is still fairly untested and members of the BOG said they have not decided whether they will use the funding to reward excellence or improvements.

According to a study by the Associate Director of Research and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the graduation rates at Tennessee public institutions remained virtually unchanged between 1995 and 2008, despite between 2 percent to 5 percent of funding being tied to performance during most of that period. In Pennsylvania, the State System of Higher Education reported that during a 2000 to 2008 period of performance-based funding, the four-year graduation rate improved from 25 percent to 32.2 percent, but its six-year rate remained the same.

But the $118 million requested for performance-based funding in Florida comes on top of the $300 million the Board said it expects to see return to the SUS something USF administrators said they did not expect.

We think this new funding model is a positive step for everyone, BOG spokeswoman Kim Wilmath said in an email to The Oracle. Most of the concerns we heard from universities was in regard to this years $300 million cut across the State University System, which, of course, we share. But it is everyones expectation that the cut will be one-time, as the Legislature promised, and well see that funding restored in next years budget hopefully with the additional $118 million in performance-based funding as well.

Wilcox said a better picture may form as the legislative season progresses.

Were playing a bit of wait-and-see here, he said. As we get past the presidential election and we start to see the Legislature preparing for the next legislative session, thats when were going to get a much better understanding. … Theres a clear and sober realization that if universities are going to accomplish the goals the Board of Governors has set for higher education in the state of Florida… were going to have to realize greater levels of investment at the same time preserving affordability and make sure access doesnt shrink or become problematic. And at the same time, the universitys going to have to be accountable to those goals.