The Magical New Funding Formula

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Arkansas officials join those from other states calling for a change in how the states fund public colleges. According to an article by Evie Blad in the Northwest Arkansas Times:

Arkansas’ higher-education director wants to change the formula the state uses to fund colleges and universities, doling out more public money to campuses that meet goals in areas such as degree production and student retention. The move would change the current policy, which relies largely on enrollment to determine funding.

Working with college and university leaders to make the policy change would promote more equitable funding at the institutions and give state leaders a way to enforce their goals for increasing college degrees in the state, said Jim Purcell, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

“There’s enough evidence out there to say how we do higher education in Arkansas needs to change,” he said.

Yea, but there isn’t much evidence at all to say how people like Purcell should go about changing the way the Natural State does higher education.

Purcell says that it makes sense to fund more generously for college completion and the achievement of other state-set goals. Funding for enrollment, after all, doesn’t actually encourage state colleges to do a good job with the students they have. Or, as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan put it back in April “Access is critical, but at the end of the day, it’s about completion.”

But while changes like these seem logical, they’re actually quite risky. Part of the problem is that such funding changes might lead colleges to simply reduce standards for rewarding degrees.

Another problem is that even if policy changes and sophisticated legislation can preserve the standards colleges use to reward degrees, such changes will almost necessarily punish less selective schools, which enroll unprepared students and have lower graduation rates. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer