Metrics, Dollars, and Systems Change: Learning from Washington State’s Student Achievement Initiative to Design Effective Postsecondary Performance Funding Policies

Jenkins, Paul Davis; Shulock, Nancy

As the nation’s colleges and universities struggle with declining public funding, growing enrollments, and calls for improved completion rates, state lawmakers are once again looking at performance- based funding as a way to generate a better return on public investments in higher education. This renewed interest in performance funding derives from observations that enrollment-based funding has led institutions to focus on maximizing enrollment and thus pay insufficient attention to student outcomes. By tying institutional funding to completion and other desired outcomes, the expectation is that colleges will have added motivation to identify and implement better ways to accomplish those goals. Earlier models of performance-based funding encountered much resistance from educators and were often short-lived. Designed mostly to reward degree completion, often with arbitrary targets and few dollars, they were rightly criticized for imposing standards and metrics on institutions that did not accurately capture their missions and complexities. Particularly for community colleges, which aim to provide “open access” to higher education, completion rates provide an incomplete measure of their effectiveness in achieving their mission. Thus, with performance-based funding, colleges could in effect be penalized for opening their doors to disadvantaged students, who are more expensive to serve and less likely to complete a program than students with more privileged backgrounds.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 12, 2014