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Higher Ed Funding by Metrics?

Gov. Brown looks to tie state university funding to metrics

by Brian Leubitz

Gov. Brown isn't one to really sit around and rest on a balanced budget. Though the May revise is still a few weeks away, he's looking for some big ideas. This is certainly a big idea:

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to tie some state funding for California's public universities to a host of new requirements, including 10% increases in the number of transfer students from community colleges and the percentage of freshmen graduating within four years.

Brown, who has repeatedly said the universities should be leaner and serve more students, is asking for equivalent increases in several other areas as well, according to a copy of his plan obtained by The Times. Those include raising the overall number of graduates and a stipulation that more students coming from community colleges finish their studies within two years.(LA Times)

Some members of the higher education community are not so enthused by the plan. The most obvious concern is that most of these metrics are issues which are almost entirely under the control of administration, rather than faculty or students. Matt Haney, Executive Director of the UC Students Association and an elected member of the SF school board, had this to say on the plan:

Welcome to the "No Child Left Behind" era for the UC. State funding, which is still grossly inadequate, being tied to "performance measures," may mean the end of the public university in California as we know it...Slash our funding, ask us to do a lot more as demonstrated by external "outcomes" developed by people who aren't educators, and then punish the students for any failure by the administration to meet those outcomes. At this point, not a fan

Of course, this isn't the only higher education funding proposal on the table. Brown previously called for a tuition freeze during the Prop 30 campaign, contingent on the passage of Prop 30. With the Prop 30 revenues now flowing in, Brown will be under pressure to keep that promise. But his full higher education funding plan will flesh out many of the details around the bones that have already leaked out.

Higher education has always been in something of a weird position in California. It is clearly an investment in future economic prosperity. Take a look at the innovation surrounding all of the major UC&CSU campus sites. However, it is something that legislators look at and see an alternative funding source (ie students). And thus the dramatic cuts over the last few years.

It could be that some metrics-based pressure lights some fires under the administration of the UC and CSU systems, but the question is where does the money that we are gambling with come from? If metrics aren't met, and funding is cut, who suffers? Maybe an administrator here or there will be laid off, but ultimately, the cuts would trickle down to students, staff and faculty.