Faculty Council debates state performance funding metrics

Thursday, November 3, 2011 | 9:04 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Discussion of a proposed performance funding model for Missouri higher education brought out heated opinions from some UM Faculty Council members at a meeting Thursday.

Nikki Krawitz, University of Missouri System vice president for finance and administration, presented an update of the proposed performance funding model to the council and took suggestions on how the measures could be improved.

What is a performance funding model?

Under a performance-based model, any state appropriations greater than base level funding for the previous year would be budgeted to each university based on that school's performance in five areas.

Nikki Krawitz, UM System vice president for finance and administration, said schools will have the opportunity to choose four measures from three areas and add a fifth measure specific to each college or university.

The areas and proposed measures might include:

  • Student progress: Freshman to sophomore retention rate and full-time degree seeking undergraduates completing 24 hours in their first year.
  • Degree attainment: Total degrees awarded, degrees awarded per full-time equivalent students and six-year graduation rate.
  • Quality of learning: Performance on major field and professional licensure examinations.
  • A fifth and final measure determined by each college or university.

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Many council members worried performance funding metrics will not capture MU's full academic mission, including MU's graduate studies program and research mission.

Broadly speaking, performance funding is the allocation of state money to schools based on their performance in certain academic areas from one year to the next. A performance-based model is being considered for Missouri's colleges and universities.

"The whole focus of this is consistent with the state and governor's goal of increasing the number of citizens in the state with post-secondary degrees or certifications," Krawitz said.

One of the most important details still being developed, Krawitz said, is how schools that are already performing well will be rewarded in the proposed measures for sustaining that success. As an example, Krawitz noted that MU's graduation rates have increased over the past 10 years, but the higher the rates increase, the more difficult it will become for MU to significantly increase graduation rates.

“It’s not necessarily just about improving; there would be the option of sustaining high performance,” Krawitz said.

Council members highlighted several issues they have with the metrics, especially the lack of recognition for MU's graduate studies and research mission.

Several council members, including Associate Professor of Nursing Rebecca Johnson, noted the measures don't account for graduate students' success.

"Graduate students are getting published; they are getting grants; they are presenting their research at peer-reviewed, nationally and internationally successful conferences," Johnson said. "There are many metrics to use that show success and quality in our graduate program."

In addition, council members noted the importance of rewarding the university's research mission.

"Just because we don’t have a measure for these certain qualities doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered," André Ariew, associate professor of philosophy, said. "We can’t put a quantity on this quality measure, but it’s still a really important part of our mission."

Krawitz countered that a quality measurement is not necessarily feasible because the state has not yet found a way to accurately measure the quality of education.

Still, council members Johnson and Nicole Monnier, associate teaching professor of Russian, expressed their doubts that performance metrics can accurately reflect the university's entire academic mission.

"I hear your angst, and believe me, I share it because we are different," Krawitz said. "One could argue that as the research university of the state we shouldn’t be included in the same set of measures that the other four-year institutions are included in. But right now that’s not the direction we’ve been going in."

Krawitz said there are still a variety of questions to address, including the details of how appropriations would be distributed and how the model would work under changing economic conditions.

"There are a million reasons why you would not want to base funding on performance measures and a million reasons why you would want to," Krawitz said. "I can probably debate all of those."

There are still significant questions regarding the implementation of performance-based funding, said Steve Graham, UM System senior associate vice president of academic affairs, in a report to the system's Intercampus Faculty Council.

These questions include:

  • What level of performance is sufficient to trigger funding?
  • How will progress over the past 10 years be recognized by the model?
  • How will performance-based funding be regarded by the state legislature?

Krawitz acknowledged the issue is very complex and said many details still need to be worked out before any model could actually be implemented.

“I appreciate the input, but I think as you discuss it, you discover how difficult it is," Krawitz said. "Keep the ideas coming because the book’s not closed yet.”

Krawitz will present the measures again at the rescheduled general faculty meeting on Nov. 16.

The task force will take performance funding measures to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education for approval at the board's December meeting.

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