Graduation rates improve as state moves to performance-based funding model


As the Florida Board of Governors’ (BOG) announced Thursday its latest measure to move toward a method of performance-based funding for higher education, USF had an announcement of its own: its graduation rate, a metric that had come under great scrutiny from the BOG during the last legislative season, had reached 63 percent – a number higher than it has been in the past 15 years. 

While state universities competed for a share of $20 million in additional performance-based funding appropriated by state Legislature to their base budgets, USF and UCF topped the recipient list at $2.6 million. This year, the BOG approved a new model of funding that would allow even a university’s base budget to be performance-based. 

Based on a 50-point scale, any university that receives below 26 points could lose up to 1 percent in funding and would be ineligible for further funds from the performance-based pot, which will increase from $20 million to $50 million. This amount of money will also now be based on 10 metrics, instead of three. Additionally, if all universities score above 26 points, the bottom three performers would still be ineligible for a share of the $50 million.

Florida State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser said universities shouldn’t think of it as competing against each other for funds, but rather about providing more accountability to taxpayers to justify funding higher education.  

“It’s Florida’s money,” Criser said. “It’s about how we can best and most responsibly invest Florida’s money. … What we establish is credibility for why (legislators) should provide funding. … We have to fight for our seat at the table.”  

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said he thinks USF is positioned well as the allocation season begins, as demonstrated by the 63 percent graduation rate – a number that has increased by more than 20 percent since USF President Judy Genshaft was appointed in 2001. 

Performance, he said, has been carefully monitored at USF and “intentional investments” in student success such as funding the SMART lab, 24/5 Library hours, undergraduate research, financial aid and other supplementary facets of an education have been at the forefront of planning. 

“Quite frankly, the progress we’ve made over the past decade would make most people at other universities absolutely giddy because of how many balls we’ve been juggling,” Wilcox said. 

As Florida continues to follow the national higher education trend of moving toward performance-based funding, Wilcox said USF will continue to change the culture of how education is commonly thought of, starting with the enrollment process.

“We are now making sure we are enrolling students that have demonstrated likelihood for success in Florida based on their high school performances,” he said.  “That hadn’t always been the case in Florida, where the incentive until recently was less about how many students exited the backdoor with the skills, competency and degree than about how many students came in the front door.”

BOG Chairman Mori Hosseini said providing performance-based results would be necessary to show Legislature that higher education would have a return on investment.

“If you want new money, you have to have skin in the game,” he said.