Credit: Thinkstock/Hemera

Fund Colleges According to Pass Rates, Not Enrollments?

By Corey Murray

Looking to boost college completion, the Wyoming Community College Commission has proposed an incentive-based funding formula that would tie millions in taxpayer dollars to student success rates.

The time may be coming for Wyoming community colleges to prove it or lose it.

Committed to improving completion rates across its network of seven community colleges, the Wyoming Community College Commission has proposed a program that would allocate a portion of state funds based on the number of students who successfully pass college courses.

The program, reported on by the Casper Star-Tribune, would dole out about $12 million based on student success rates. Like many community colleges across the country, two-year institutions in Wyoming have traditionally been funded according to the number of students enrolled.

But among educators, there is some consensus that such a formula is antiquated and lacks the teeth to help the state effectively advance its completion agenda.

Jim Rose, the commission’s executive director, told state legislators late last year that the program should launch in 2015.

“Everybody agrees we’ve got to do better,” Rose told the newspaper. “It’s not good enough to get these students in the door and then let them languish in remedial education or spend all this time just swirling around and never gaining any real credential or degree.”

Wyoming has plenty of work to do. According to the article, “only 28.7 percent of first-time, full-time students graduate in three years from the state’s two-year colleges.”

Not Alone

Wyoming isn’t the only state to propose alternative funding measures as an incentive for college completion, in addition to other educational goals.

In Ohio, community college presidents gave their support last summer to a proposed funding system that would reward colleges based partly on completion rates.

According to the Mansfield News Journal, a three-pronged funding model would award 50 percent of state funds for course pass rates; another 25 percent for achieving “success points,” or progress toward predetermined academic goals; and 25 percent for completion milestones, which would be weighted according to the student population. Legislators have until the start of fiscal year 2015 to approve the proposal, according to the Journal.

In fiscal year 2012, Massachusetts unveiled its Performance Incentive Fund. In the most recent budget year, the massive competitive grant program received $7.5 million for programs designed to meet state educational goals, from completion to curriculum alignment to remedial education to better career advising. At least four community colleges (Bunker Hill Community College, Cape Cod Community College, Middlesex Community College and Springfield Technical Community College) received grant funds for different incentive-based programs.

The state of Washington has been experimenting with incentivized funding measures since launching its Student Achievement Initiative, back in 2006. Like other incentive-based programs, the initiative is intended to help the state’s community and technical colleges “shift from funding entirely for enrollment inputs to also funding meaningful outcomes.”

Through a partnership with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, Washington state community colleges “identified key academic benchmarks that students must meet to successfully complete degrees and certificates.” Among the measures evaluated were basic college-level skills, first-year retention rates, performance in college-level math and completion of academic goals. That program was revised in 2012.

Looking for ideas to spark completion rates at your college? The American Association of Community Colleges maintains a list of national college completion initiatives.

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

You May Also Like