Missed Opportunity: Proposed Performance Measures for UW System Won’t do Much to Open Doors for Underserved Students

Thursday, March 2, 2017 at 10:31 AM by

Governor Walker has proposed a modest increase in state support to the UW System in the 2017-19 budget period, with the additional resources to be distributed among campuses based on how well they score on a certain set of criteria. Those measures could penalize institutions that have been most effective in enrolling underrepresented students and provide a disincentive for campuses to admit low-income students, first-generation students, or other students who may take longer to graduate.

Wisconsin is one of several states moving to outcomes-based funding as a way of distributing some higher education funding among institutions. In his budget proposal, Governor Walker proposed adding $43 million over two years in new funding for the UW System, to be distributed among the institutions using the following set of criteria:

  • Affordability and attainability of degrees (used to distribute 30% of the performance-based funding);
  • Student success in the workforce (30%);
  • Student work readiness (15%);
  • Operational efficiency (10%);
  • Outreach (5%); and
  • Two additional criteria to be set by the Board of Regents (10%).

These categories are then divided into subcategories specified by the Governor.  For example, within the affordability and attainability measure, he specified that the subcategories should include the length of time students take to obtain a degree, student participation in programs that allow them to earn credits at a UW campus while still in high school, the share of students completing degrees within specified amounts of time, the share of students receiving degrees in technology-related fields, low-income student graduation rate, and faculty instructional hours.

With performance funding depending on so many categories and subcategories, it’s hard to know for sure what the result of the Governor’s proposal would be for students and for the UW System. But the proposal probably wouldn’t do much to open up the university system to students who have been left out in the past.

Campuses with the broadest mission of educating low-income students, students of color, and adult students may be at a disadvantage in competing with other campuses for the funding. In particular, the mission of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the population that institution serves could mean that UW-M would rank behind other campuses on some of the measures, and receive a smaller share of the pot. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article notes:

“The average age of a UW-Milwaukee student is 26, and 40% of UWM students are the first generation in their family to attend college. They may take longer to graduate because they only go part time while holding down a job, [UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone] said.

The average time to degree for UW-Madison undergrads is 4.03 years, while it was 4.75 years for spring 2016 grads at UW-Milwaukee.

If UWM competes with UW-Madison for performance-based funding, would that create a financial incentive for UWM to accept fewer students who are less prepared for college, despite the university’s mission of access to anyone who wants a college education, while also functioning as a research institution?” (“Scott Walker proposes ranking UW campuses to divide new money,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 11, 2017.)

Governor Walker’s inclusion of the graduation rate for students with low incomes as a subcategory in the performance measures is a nod in the right direction but needs improvement, as explained by this recent post from the Center for Law and Social Policy:

“CLASP is glad Wisconsin tried to include a measure that would not give negative incentives to enroll low-income students; however it should be a measure of the number of low-income student who graduate, not a rate. A rate can easily be gamed by decreasing the number of low-income students brought in to Universities, which is counter to the purpose of including such a measure. Some experts in Wisconsin are calling attention to this and other flaws in the plan, including that so many measures dilute the effect, rendering them not as meaningful as they could be. Future collaboration with the Board of Regents may lead to better and fewer measures.”

For more about how to construct effective performance measures that reduce barriers for success for all students, read CLASP’s February 2017 report, “Equity Measures in State Outcomes-Based Funding.”

And for more about what the Governor has proposed in his budget for higher education, including the tuition freeze at the technical college system and the tuition cut at the UW System, see our new release, “A Summary of the Governor’s Proposed Budget for Higher Education.”

 

Tamarine Cornelius

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