Gov. Snyder proposes performance-based funding for universities; educators express concerns



Some university officials are still concerned about performance-based funding for Michigan public universities after Gov. Rick Snyder announced his budget plan.

Central Michigan University is expected to receive a 3.8-percent increase in funding equivalent to more than $2.5 million in 2013 after Snyder announced his planned budget and based educational allocations on a performance-based system for the first time in Michigan history.

Though the system would send more funds to CMU than the statewide average in Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed 2013 budget, some university employees are still concerned about performance-based funding for Michigan public universities. Other teaching groups have vocalized their opinion against the system as well, including The American Federation of Teachers Michigan.

Michigan is one of at least 17 states to use a performance-based funding system, though some states have abandoned similar programs in the past.

CMU will receive more than $70.6 million of state and federal government funding in 2013 if Snyder's budget is approved. The planned funding increase is based on four criteria, including growth in the number of undergraduate degrees, growth in degrees in critical skills areas, the number of Pell Grant recipients and compliance with tuition restraint.

Michael Ostling, assistant professor of religion, said basing funding off of graduation rates and degrees can be problematic, and the real concern should be whether students are receiving a proper education.

"I have nothing against the idea of a public university being funded by the taxpayers being expected to perform, but performance should mean that we are teaching people and that students are learning something," Ostling said.

Ostling said his concerns included the possibility of universities attempting to increase their graduation rates for more funding by decreasing the standards expected of students.

"My main concern is what it’s going to do to the standards of the university," Ostling said. "Eventually, if you have performance-based funding and the definition of performance is graduation and degree rates, the pressure is going to be everywhere: on deans, chairs and faculty to pass students and increase graduation rates."

Kathy Wilbur, vice president for development and external relations, said evaluating universities based on performance may never be perfect, though the current criteria are reasonable.

"There are all kinds of nuances and complications that make metrics never perfect," Wilbur said. "But I think it’s very reasonable for the state to be making the case to the public that is paying the taxes and explaining what the money is going for and if it’s being used effectively."

Wilbur said among complications, the measurement of degrees in critical skills areas, which include science, technology, engineering and mathematics, can be difficult.

"It’s a reasonable metric. However, we have a whole group of students on campus who take those courses, but they’re in health professions," Wilbur said. "So it certainly does exclude some other majors that I believe would be very appropriate to include, but you’re just not going to win on every issue."

The American Federation of Teachers Michigan recently released a memo regarding its stance against performance-based funding, citing drastic budget cuts in recent years, inadequate measurement of degrees and a lack of data as reasons for the program's inefficiency.

"We believe that given the lack of basic funding that our public universities are currently dealing with, the historical ineffectiveness of (performance-based funding) in other states, and our need for more data on how our students are currently doing, this is not the time to rush into such an experiment," the release stated. "Rather, we recommend assessing each of our universities, identifying where improvements could and should be made, and then developing policies to promote such changes"


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