Iowa university heads pitch performance-based funding ideas

Performance-funding task force to make recommendations in June

Vanessa Miller
Published: March 13 2014 | 4:20 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:33 am in

A task force commissioned by the Board of Regents to review how state dollars are allocated to Iowa’s public universities heard from the presidents of the institutions Thursday regarding their preferred funding models.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason, Iowa State University President Steven Leath and University of Northern Iowa President William Ruud outlined preferred approaches to performance-based funding – including what metrics they think should be used and why.

In Mason’s presentation, she said the UI supports moving to a funding model based on performance metrics, and she proposed several possible criteria – including student progress toward a degree. The UI tops the other regent universities in that category – boasting a six-year graduation rate of 69.6 percent and a four-year graduation rate of 51.1 percent.

The UI also would support allocating funds based on an institution’s effort to lower the cost of education – by maintaining affordable tuition and offering scholarships – and based on the quality of entering students and programs. National rankings could be used to determine program quality, according to the UI presentation.

Other UI-proposed performance metrics include access to professional colleges for Iowa residents, job placement in Iowa, and a university’s research and economic development capabilities and achievements.

Iowa State’s proposal based funding on things like enrollment, percent of minority students, and number of degrees awarded to in-state students. ISU in the fall reported its largest enrollment in history, topping both UI and UNI for the first time in decades, with 33,241 students.

In Leath’s presentation Thursday, he said, ISU has seen its undergraduate enrollment increase 30 percent in the last seven years, and allocating the majority of state support based on a “three-year enrollment average” holds the universities accountable to the taxpayers.

The three presidents also took questions from task force members.

The five-member group began meeting last year to discuss Iowa’s existing model for distributing general university dollars and to mull implications of using performance metrics to fund the institutions in the future.

The group has heard from local and national research groups about what other states are doing and what a performance-based funding model could look like in Iowa.  Nearly 30 states have approved or are planning to implement some type of outcome-based funding model.

But Iowa has been funding its universities the same way for decades – using a 40-40-20 split method dating back to 1945. Lawmakers in many states began using enrollment metrics to fund universities in the 1960s, but Iowa never changed.

Today, state dollars make up a smaller portion of the general education budgets for the regent universities than in the past. In the 2012 budget year, for example, state support accounted for 36 percent of general university funding compared with 64 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, student tuition made up 59 percent of the general university funding in 2012, up from 31 percent in 2001.

The performance-funding task force will make recommendations to the Iowa Board of Regents in June on how they suggest proceeding – if at all – with performance-based funding. After receiving the recommendations, regents will further study the issue and possibly make a recommendation to the governor to change the way universities are supported.

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