College funding model advances
Governor will review proposal
A new funding model that emphasizes achievement over enrollment advanced Friday after the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted to review policies governing the change.
The proposed policy was reviewed without dissent or discussion. It will now be reviewed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and lawmakers before returning to the board for a final vote.
Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said after the meeting that the changes would match state funding with goals.
“Everything in it aligns with the strategic goals for the state … raising the attainment rate of all of Arkansas and then specific groups of underrepresented people in the state,” she said. “It’s just important to align our funding with our goals, and in the past that isn’t necessarily what we’ve done.”
The model is also a priority for Hutchinson, who has pledged an additional $10 million for the state’s 11 public universities and 22 public community colleges if the change is adopted.
No college or university would lose money in the first year of the formula’s implementation.
However, preliminary data from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education indicate that — without the one-year suspension of funding cuts — three four-year universities and 13 two-year colleges would take a hit.
Of the four-year schools, the University of Arkansas at Monticello had the
largest productivity decrease, according to a draft document, while the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville had the biggest increase.
Of the two-year schools, the University of Arkansas Community College at Rich Mountain in Mena had the largest productivity decrease, according to draft numbers, while Arkansas State University-Newport had the largest productivity increase.
Officials noted some changes are likely in the draft numbers because of data quality issues that are being resolved.
Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, a member of the House Education Committee, said she had concerns about what a productivity decrease in the draft document could mean for Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.
“I’m not happy with that because [the Bentonville college] has been underfunded, goodness, for years,” she said. “They’ve constantly been struggling.”
Della Rosa voted for the bill authorizing the funding change during a committee meeting after the Higher Education Department promised the final formula — which was not part of the bill — would come back to the committee for review.
“They were asking us to pass something and there was no actual formula in there,” she said. “It authorized them to change the formula based on this very, very wide description of parameters.”
Markham said she expected the policy reviewed by the board Friday to come before the House and Senate Education committees on Sept. 18.
Act 148 of 2017, sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, authorized the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to develop rules to implement the new funding model.
The model would reward colleges and universities that bestow more credentials — like workforce certificates or diplomas — and help more students progress toward degrees.
The success of transfer students, the number of students who complete introductory courses, the time it takes students to earn degrees and the credits students have upon completion also would be weighted to determine a school’s funding.
The model aims to reward research and provide more money to small colleges and universities that don’t have the same economies of scale as larger schools.
Groups — such as underrepresented members of minority groups — would be weighted more heavily in the model.
There’s also an efficiency gauge that looks at instructional salaries vs. administrative salaries per student and would reward schools that have lower administrative costs.
“Everybody’s success counts, but those people who have higher gaps in attainment rates, who are maybe a little bit more difficult to serve — more expensive to serve — they’re weighted a little more heavily to continue to attract those students really well and provide the resources to those institutions to provide really good services,” Markham said.