The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Performance-Based Higher Education Funding?

with 3 comments

WSIU has an article on the demolition of McAndrew Stadium, but the last few paragraphs are about a different subject. The Illinois Board of Higher Education is considering a switch to performance-based funding. From the article:

SIU’s President is concerned about next year’s funding from the state… and it has little to do with the current budget crisis facing Illinois.

At a recent meeting of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, leaders began looking at proposals for performance-based budgeting. Several factors would be looked at, including enrollment, retention and graduation rates.

SIU President Glenn Poshard says if that system is approved in the legislature next spring, university leaders all over the state will have to re-evaluate how their institutions do business. [Emphasis added.]

Poshard is right to be worried. If enrollment, retention, and graduation rates are considered when the legislature appropriates funds, SIUC will not fare well. As everyone knows, SIUC’s enrollment is declining and our six-year graduation rates are less than 50% – third lowest in the state. Our retention rates aren’t spectacular either.

State Rep. Fred Crespo (D), legislative sponsor of the commission that proposed the funding change, seems to be going after underperforming universities. I found this in a suburban Daily Herald article:

“The fact is we have state colleges that have been historically performing at very poor levels in terms of graduation and retention rates,” said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat serving as the commission’s House speaker appointee. “That to me is not acceptable when you consider every college is being funded by state dollars.”

While not intended to be punitive, there’s no avoiding the fact some institutions would see drastic cuts under the new model.

Though hesitant to single any one out, Crespo said it doesn’t make sense to have four-year colleges with “quasi-open enrollment,” calling them glorified community colleges.

[Read more:]

I don’t think there will be a quick move to performance-based funding. The commission’s report (pdf) “acknowledges that the development of performance-based funding is in its infancy.”

Still, Illinois’ deficit this year is 47% of our state budget, making us the state in the worst fiscal condition in the country. State funding will likely get increasingly scarce in the coming years. It’s only a matter of time until Illinois starts considering performance in making higher education funding decisions.

SIUC should really make a serious effort to improve its performance before the state transitions to performance-based funding. Once the transition happens, improvement will become more difficult as a result of reduced funding. There are changes underway at SIUC. I hope they’re the right changes.

Comments are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

December 10, 2010 at 7:45 am

3 Responses

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  1. One problem is that attempts to increase enrollment are sometimes at odds with efforts to improve retention. There’s a rather strong correlation between ACT scores and graduation rates, and much of SIUC’s retention troubles can be explained by our low average ACT scores. But the easiest way to get more students is to accept more students. And internal emphasis on programs that attract more students and educate them efficiently, rather than high-quality programs that attract higher quality students, also risks causing enough retention problems to offset any enrollment increases they cause.

    This isn’t to say that SIUC shouldn’t be trying to serve a wide range of students, including many with lowish ACT scores. That’s our historical mission. The University College stuff might help. But there’s only so much one can do to help students who aren’t adequately prepared for college succeed at college. Even if we build a nice new student services building, students who aren’t well prepared for college are going to do less well at college than those who are well prepared. Rearranging the deck chairs and all.

    The key to my mind would thus be attracting more qualified students. And the way to distinguish us from most other Illinois public universities is by connecting our research identity to our teaching identity. We need to convince more good Illinois students (and their families) that they’ll get something something at SIUC they won’t get at a place like SIUE or the other regional universities in this state: experience with practicing chemists, historians, and philosophers–not just the chemistry teachers, history teachers, and philosophy teachers they’ll encounter at institutions without our research agenda.

    Instead we lurch between our research and teaching identities. Wendler tried to emphasize research without much attention to teaching. Poshard and Cheng seem to be all about undergraduate education.

    We can’t match the U of I at research. And we can’t both both support research and serve underprepared undergraduates as well as a regional university, which doesn’t need to provide faculty with time and resources for research. We have to somehow find a niche in which we can benefit a wider range of students than can get in and succeed at the U of I by giving them a richer intellectual experience than they’ll get at a regional university without our research mission.

    Articulate that niche, make it a reality on campus, and market it successfully. That’s far more important than reassigning Larry Dietz or fixing the “Woody Hall Shuffle”.


    December 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

  2. I agree with Nemo and would add that SIUC has advantages over U of I academically. At U of I, freshmen and sophomores are crammed into huge lectures for their core courses and then have small discussion sections led by graduate students. Freshmen and sophomores here are more likely to be in smaller,though not always small, classes taught by practicing chemists, historians, and philosophers. It’s a mystery to my why the university doesn’t emphasize that students here get more personal contact from professors from the start.


    December 10, 2010 at 5:43 pm

  3. SIU in 1975 was a place where you could get a great education and pay less money. Now, you pay the same amount of money and are handed a piece of candy with your second rate degree. Strangely enough, people doing the hiring have noticed and the SIU degree doesn’t have near the value of a U of I degree anymore.

    In the end, SIU does way more “retention” and less “educating” than it should. Reverse that trend and you might have a chance. Everything else – football, woody hall shuffle, TA teaching freshman, is just window dressing.


    December 13, 2010 at 10:43 pm

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