The University of Illinois is moving towards an agreement with state legislature to institute a performance-based system of funding for its three campuses. Under the agreement, state lawmakers will pledge to maintain a stable funding line to the university of more than $660 million beginning this year, and the school will annually meet a certain threshold of in-state student enrollment, retention and graduation rates.
From the Chicago Tribune:
For its part, U. of I. would need to admit at least a certain number of in-state undergraduates at each campus: 14,000 at Urbana-Champaign, 11,800 at Chicago and 1,500 at Springfield, starting in the 2018–19 academic year. In addition, Illinois residents must comprise half of the annual growth of on-campus undergraduate enrollment.
U. of I. would be required to maintain a retention rate of at least 87 percent systemwide for students going from freshman to sophomore year, as well as a six-year graduation rate of at least 72 percent.
Several states with historically black colleges appropriate funding under similar models, with money being attached to the percentage of graduates working in booming industries, retention rates, graduation rates, and the number of students who remain in state to work after graduation. For HBCUs like Southern University, Florida A&M University, South Carolina State University, Tennessee State University and other flagship institutions, this growing practice of measuring performance without contextual consideration for the HBCU mission is more than problematic — it is dangerous.
Making sure that colleges and universities graduate a respectable number of the students they admit is an honorable pursuit, but for HBCUs which enroll a healthy percentage of the nation’s poor and minority students, a surface-level look at who stays and who graduates doesn’t do their mission justice in the eyes of funding spreadsheets.
All of the students who would not be eligible for entry into larger four-year institutions have historically found a place at black colleges, which work miracles in bringing students at the fringes of academic preparedness up to speed and on pace with classmates from better supported secondary school systems. And that’s while keep institutional pace as a national resource for scientific research and community engagement.
But under performance-based funding models, schools do not receive credit for the work of raising up at-risk and under-resourced students; but they get all of the punishment for enrolling students who do not persist and complete due to lack of readiness or lack of funds.
Two years ago, Tennessee adopted a system that pays for community college tuition for qualifying students right out of high school, an initiative which recently set a new record for the number of students applying for admission, and was the framework for President Barack Obama’s free college program.
The program has the potential to induce more than 50,000 in-state students to make the business decision to attend a community college instead of Tennessee State University. So when you consider that the state is directing students away from TSU, and add to that the revenue stress from the state’s performance-based funding system, you have an entirely new view of what programs like these can do to decimate a black college with a noble mission, but stretched financial resources.
Tennessee State, which started with the second-lowest appropriations baseline at just over $1.7 million in 2015, comes away with a recommended increase of just over $344,000; more than $1 million less than what the next-lowest system school received through the same metrics.
Tennessee State shouldn’t be punished or forced to do more with less. Given its mission and the ways it fosters diversity and workforce development for the entire state, it should be doing more with more. And that should be without the school taking steps to increase admission standards, which if launched without resources for increased merit scholarships, or cuts made to account for revenue losses, could have dramatic impact on an institution.
- SUNO enrollment drops nearly 20 percent with new admissions standards
- K-State says enrollment drop due to tougher admission standards
- SFA sees a drop enrollment due to increased admission standards
It’s the same idea for FAMU, which under former president Elmira Mangum, increased its earnings under state performance-based funding statutes, from $10 million to over $26 million after ranking near the bottom of the list of all state schools in 2015.
FAMU awarded $25.6 million in performance funding by Board of Governors
In Tennessee, performance is defined by the number of students pursuing or having earned 30, 60 or 90 credit hours, the six-year graduation rate, and the number of advanced degrees produced in a year. In Florida, the formula is calculated in part by the percentage of graduates who stay and earn jobs in the state, the number of degrees awarded in STEM industries, and the percentage of students who qualify for Pell grants.
FAMU increased its metrics. Months later, the school was criticized for a downturn in enrollment, but not without context from Dr. Mangum.
In 2012, the FAMU Board of Trustees changed the University’s policy to limit Access and Opportunity Students (profile admits) in an effort to ensure the University admitted more college-ready students. At the height of FAMU’s enrollment, almost 80 percent of FAMU’s admitted students who subsequently enrolled were Access and Opportunity Students (AOS). However, many of these students were not progressing academically, churned, and most did not graduate.
The FAMU BOT’s policy is working. Thus, the University experienced a 77 percent decline in the enrollment of Access and Opportunity Students from 2008–2015. In 2015, 72 percent of FAMU’s admitted students who enrolled were regular admits and this 91 percent increase represents the most students enrolling at FAMU that meet the state’s minimum qualifications for admissions.
Rules that set blanket standards for HBCUs and larger, better resourced PWIs inevitably makes the case for taking funding away from HBCUs much easier. Very few schools can meet universal standards of performance, because too many students can’t afford to stay in school or take longer to graduate because they are working or have other obstacles to completion.
For HBCUs, this reality is more pressing and more evident in deferred maintenance, scholarship allotments and enrollment management strategies. It only takes but a few consecutive years of decreased funding to take a struggling HBCU from survival to inoperability.
And sadly, the worst is yet to come.