Having more influence on “quality control” at state universities and colleges is one of the goals of a proposed funding formula, according to Dr. Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.
Markham, the former vice chancellor for academic services at Cossatot Community College, was named director July 29, the same day the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the new funding proposal.
The potential new funding formula would incentivize colleges and universities to achieve goals set by the state. Among those goals are degree and certificate completion, completions by underserved and at-risk students, and completions in certain areas needed by the state and industry, such as in science and technology fields. The funding model would provide incentives for institutions to work together on student transfers. It would include measures of post-completion success, such as enrollment in higher education or effective transition into the workforce.
The formula would encourage faster time to completion with a minimum number of credits. It also would encourage efficient use of resources, including maximizing spending in areas directly impacting student success. Funding for individual institutions would increase or decrease year by year based in part on a “productivity index.”
The idea must be approved by the Legislature and then fleshed out by education policymakers in time for the 2018-19 school year.
Following is an excerpt from a recent interview with Markham conducted by Roby Brock with Talk Business & Politics.
TB&P: So, One of the concerns is obviously this is moving from an enrollment based kind of formula to an outcomes based formula. We want people to graduate from 2-year 4-year schools. There is concern that people will be cherry picking students more likely to succeed. Is that going to happen and is that a bad thing?
Markham: It could always happen and I think at some level that always has happened. I mean most of our universities do, they choose their admissions standards based on students that are most likely to complete. Those who have the higher GPA’s and have the higher placement scores, where as our 2-year colleges are all open enrollment so they are taking students wherever they are. Although the metrics of the formula haven’t been fully developed a lot of those hedge for those types of students who are academically underprepared or socioeconomically disadvantaged. So although schools are incentivized for those completions they are also preserved as far as access in the rural and the underserved areas, so they do receive more funding for students that are more expensive to educate.
TB&P: If you see something like that happening, though, once this formula’s worked out and it’s implemented will there be some sort of enforcement mechanism to keep schools from doing the type behavior that you don’t want.
Markham: Right, well I think you have to first recognize what we count as success. When you look at the new formula, certificates of proficiency or work force training is also success just like a bachelor or master’s degree, so when you look at students who are less likely to achieve a bachelor’s degree, those students are more likely to attain a certificate or some type of work ready credential. So there’s really no disincentive to serve those students. You just get those gains earlier.
TB&P: Let’s back up a little bit too because I think this will come policy wise from your 2-year background here. Concurrent courses is this something else that you see some changes on the horizon for. I hear from a lot of K-12 folks that they would like to see that happen.
Markham: We have a concurrent credit work group that is also tackling that issue. It is something that we have to consider in the funding formula. Do we treat concurrent credit the same way we treat a student sitting on a campus or should that be looked at a little differently…
TB&P: and for folks that don’t know concurrent credit is taking college classes in High School basically and getting credit for it.
Markham: Yes right and so they are getting credit at the High School level and at the college level at the same time. Concurrent credit can be a wonderful asset to students who might not otherwise have experience in college. It can be a great motivator for them to go ahead and receive some type of credential. But, the state has struggled, along with all of the other states, it’s not unique to Arkansas, in how to fund this type of education and how to ensure that the quality is there. So it’s part of the department of higher ed’s charge is the quality control. Making sure that what those students receive at the high school level truly is college level material.
Watch a full interview with Markham in the video below.