SIUC can’t compete with the rest

The university already has it rough financially with its budget deficit and declining enrollment, but performance-based funding may end up being SIUC’s biggest headache to date.

Beginning July 1, the annual budget for higher education in Illinois must incorporate performance-based funding relating to degree completion and student success, as well as a number of other measures. Performance-based funding essentially makes public universities and community colleges more accountable for what happens once students enter the classrooms.

Rather than increasing the annual budget and having universities compete for it, Illinois is carving out a piece of its budget for performance-based funding. One-half percent of the annual budget, or $6 million, will be up for grabs for the fiscal year 2013. If SIU’s declining enrollment is any indication of how well the university performs under pressure, we won’t see a dime of it.

Allan Karnes, associate dean and professor of accountancy and member of the steering committee, said this “carved-out” funding method has failed in other states — and now Illinois is using this method.

The funding model would only be a small component in the overall budget, but it’s more than enough money to make university administrators sweat.

Nationally, state support for higher education is declining, and tuition is increasing to fill the gap, according to a report by the Higher Education Finance Study Commission.

Performance-based funding has already found a place in schools in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and most recently Ohio to make up for the decline in state support, and a number of other states are, at the very least, discussing performance-based funding.

Illinois’ funding model adds a weight to each measure to ensure that each university’s own institutional mission is taken into account. For example, research universities would be judged on the ability to pull in grant money above other measures such as the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees earned.

But even with adding weights to each measure, performance-based funding is not going to benefit SIUC, and here’s why.

SIUC is far different from other Illinois public universities such as University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University in that SIUC has always catered to first-generation students. This group makes up nearly half of SIUC’s student population, and they are also the least likely to succeed in college.

In an ideal world, SIUC should be rewarded for successfully enrolling and graduating first-generation students, right?  If that’s the case, we might have a fair shot.

But that’s not the case, because the data isn’t available just yet to count first-generation students into the equation.

Karnes, who serves on the steering committee, said some of the measures they wanted to use this time around have to be postponed.

“We have no way to tell if a student is truly first-generation or not. SIUC asks on its application if either of a student’s parents went to college. It’s not clear … it doesn’t ask whether their parents graduated. In order for performance-based funding to use that data, (every university) would have to ask the same question in the same way, and make it clear what we’re asking,” he said.

This semester’s enrollment is the lowest SIUC has seen in nearly 40 years, a clear sign that the trend will not shift in reverse anytime soon. With performance-based funding, we’re going to have to do more than bring students in.

If the chancellor thinks losing 326 students this semester is “better than expected,” what’s going to happen when we lose even more funding because we can’t graduate the small number of students we do receive?

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