University presidents face questions about performance-based funding

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | 2:58 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Institutional presidents from Missouri's 13 public universities gathered Tuesday afternoon to defend their school's statistics on retention, loan default rates and graduation rates.

With statistics from each school, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, questioned lawmakers to seek more accountability for performance-based funding.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, brought SB 492 to the Senate last week, which would codify an existing performance-based funding model for public universities. Under the proposed bill, 90 percent of new money appropriated to schools would be awarded based on five performance criteria set by the universities.

The representative body for Missouri's public institutions, the Council on Public Higher Education, unanimously supported the current funding model last June, but a still-skeptical Schaefer still had questions for the presidents.

One by one, presidents faced the Senate panel and a standing-room only crowd to field inquiries about their university's unique role among other public institutions.

Legislators praised UM System President Tim Wolfe, who spoke for all four UM campuses, for MU's work as the state's flagship land-grant university and Missouri S&T's focus on STEM subjects. Wolfe emphasized that the Columbia campus serves as a resource not only for the other three institutions, but for all Missourians.

"The role of Columbia as the flagship land-grant institution is to provide the highest quality education possible, but also work at fulfilling its mission of reaching out to all 6 million Missourians," Wolfe said.

Schaefer questioned Wolfe specifically on the number of out-of-state students enrolled at MU, saying he believes that determining a university's national draw should be a budgetary consideration. Wolfe said the incoming freshman class was one of the largest out-of-state enrollments that the campus has seen. As of fall 2013, 28.6 percent of MU's student population were out-of-state students.

Wolfe expressed understanding for tough budgetary decisions, but pointed out that a long-term plan is necessary for funding higher education.

"That's the biggest challenge that we've got in this state. What are our priorities from a higher education standpoint? If we really knew those, then we could fund appropriately," Wolfe asked. "That's the challenge I think that we collectively have is figuring out what those priorities are so that can influence the appropriate amount of funding to the appropriate institution."

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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