States Hold Colleges Accountable For Graduation Rate
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
State budgets are tight across the country, and this has some legislatures rethinking the way they fund higher education. Some states say the money they give to colleges and universities should be linked to results. A growing number say they will only increase funding for higher education if schools can produce more graduates. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.
LARRY ABRAMSON: States have long rewarded colleges and universities for higher enrollments. More students, more money. But now some states are looking at what happens to those students after they enter college, and they don't like what they see.
Ms. TERESA LUBBERS (Commissioner for Higher Education, Indiana): Going to college is not what we want. We want them to leave with a credential. And so we're going to hold them accountable for producing those credentials.
ABRAMSON: Teresa Lubbers is higher education commissioner for Indiana. Her state is hoping to reward schools that produce more graduates with more than $120 million in extra funding. She says she's been studying the idea and is coming up with incentives for boosting numbers that really matter.
Ms. LUBBERS: We've carved out certain things - on time degrees, numbers of degrees, low income degrees, completed credit hours instead of enrolled credit hours. We have a research incentive for our research institutions.
ABRAMSON: Part of the reason for this push is the growing sense that scarce dollars need to be spent wisely. But some legislators are also alarmed at poor completion rates. Nationwide just over half of entering freshmen can be expected to finish their degrees in six years, and in some states the success rate is much lower.
Stan Jones has been fighting for higher standards as president of the advocacy group Complete College America. He says many college administrators need a change in attitude.
Mr. STAN JONES (Complete College America): Mostly they think their job is to enroll students, to provide opportunities for students, but it's really the student's responsibility as to whether they graduate.
ABRAMSON: Four states already have some sort of higher ed performance standards in place, but there's growing interest in this kind of budget reform. Some college administrators are resisting, saying they can't control students' success rate. That's a common complaint from schools with lots of low income and working students, who are less likely to finish.
Connecticut is considering performance standards for its schools. Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor for the state's community colleges, says traditional measures of success don't work for her students.
Dr.�MARY ANNE COX (Assistant Chancellor, Connecticut�Community College�System): Large numbers of our students transfer to us, large numbers of students transfer from our program, and none of them are counted in the graduation or success rates either for us or for the institution that accepts them.
ABRAMSON: Cox also says her budget has already been slashed and enrollment is climbing fast, as it is at many community colleges, so she can't afford to lose funding, even if it's in the name of well meaning reforms. But advocates of these standards say if we can spend billions on higher ed we can certainly come up with a fair way to gauge success. Stan Jones of Complete College America says the best approach is to measure improvement.
Mr. JONES: And what you want to look at is not so much at the rate of graduation but look at whether they increased the number of degrees to a higher number.
ABRAMSON: Jones says that would give colleges credit for working with students in poverty or those who need remedial education. He hopes his strategy will avoid the greatest risk in performance standards for higher ed. Some schools could simply become more selective and lock out lower performing students in order to boost their numbers.
Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.
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