Resources & Publications

In Focus

Feb 22, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

States Need Strong “Equity Measures” in State Postsecondary Performance- or Outcomes-Based Funding, A New CLASP Paper Explains

By Anna Cielinski

In a majority of states, funding for public postsecondary institutions is partially based on performance or outcomes. Typically, it’s a relatively small amount of funding. However, some states have more expansive policies. For instance, Ohio bases 100 percent of its community college funding decisions on outcomes. Additional states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin, are updating or expanding their outcomes-based or performance-based funding systems.

In order to succeed with this approach, states need to build robust “equity measures” into their funding formulas. Research implies that using outcomes-based funding without equity measures disincentivizes colleges from helping low-income, underprepared, and/or adult students, as well as students of color, enter and complete programs.  

How does this process work? Why does it matter to these students? Performance- or outcomes-based funding awards state funding to institutions based on outcomes like completion of certificates, associate’s degrees, or bachelor’s degrees.  If students are perceived as less likely to attain such outcomes, institutions may act, intentionally or unintentionally, to increase selectivity in ways that leave these students behind. This type of funding may also drain open-access institutions of much-needed funding to help high-need students get over the finish line to completion.

What are equity measures? These measures reduce disincentives to serving low-income, underprepared, and/or adult students as well as students of color. They can also give open-access or other non-selective institutions the resources needed to best serve these students, who may require more costly support to move toward completion. Examples of equity measures include the number of Pell recipients who attain credentials, the number of students who progress through developmental education and earn their first credits, or a bonus on the graduation measure for students of color. A new report from CLASP provides a detailed classification system for existing state equity measures as well as recommendations for how they could be improved.

The general concept of equity measures is important to understand for anyone advocating for low-income, underprepared, and/or adult students as well as students of color. States must ensure their public postsecondary institutions receive incentives and resources to serve these students effectively—enabling them to earn credentials, succeed in the workforce, and climb out of poverty. 

Read the paper here >>

Feb 15, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Wisconsin budget misses the mark on measures promoting equity in postsecondary performance funding

By Anna Cielinski

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recently released 2017-19 budget calls for University of Wisconsin campuses to compete for $42.5 million in new funding based on performance measures. This adds Wisconsin to a growing list of states that are embarking on a postsecondary performance-based funding system.

State funding for public postsecondary institutions has traditionally been based on enrollment, but today more than two-thirds of states use or will soon use some form of outcomes-based funding (OBF) in four-year, two-year, and/or technical colleges. Outcomes-based funding rewards institutions for student outcomes, like student progress or completing degrees. With states’ greater focus on outcomes, CLASP is concerned—and some research has shown—that institutions may respond to these budgetary incentives by increasing selectivity to make achieving outcomes easier. This would make it more difficult for low-income, underprepared, minority, and adult students to access or complete postsecondary education and earn the credentials they need to succeed in today’s economy.

Wisconsin uses an OBF formula in its technical college system and this budget would create a new formula for University of Wisconsin campuses. Walker’s budget identifies six categories that institutions would be accountable for, which are further divided into 18 measures, one of which is the “low-income student graduation rate.”

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.

Be on the lookout this month for a new CLASP paper, building on our previous work, about the importance of measures that promote equity in outcomes-based funding. Well-thought-out measures pay dividends both to the students who need education to succeed and to our nation’s economy that benefits from a stronger, better-prepared workforce.

Jan 23, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Today’s Students, Yesterday’s Financial Aid Policies

By Wayne Taliaferro

The necessity of a postsecondary education is a hot topic in mainstream policy discussions. As the world becomes more globalized and our economy becomes increasingly knowledge based, the need for training beyond a high school diploma is increasingly important. States recognize this, and have placed a heavy emphasis on setting and achieving ambitious postsecondary attainment goals in response to their rapidly changing economies. Promise programs, free community college proposals and public awareness campaigns have grown in an attempt to tap deeper into the pipeline of high school students and change the culture and narrative around who goes to college. And, while these efforts are admirable, there are still some blind spots in these otherwise well-meaning state efforts. In particular, what about adult students?

Today, four out of 10 college students are older than 25. More and more, the traditional, campus-dwelling 18-22-year-old full-time student at a four-year institution is becoming the “old normal,” as the “new normal” of college students grows increasingly diverse. Once considered nontraditional, today’s students are juggling work, family and academic responsibilities. They are more ethnically and economically diverse. And most noticeably, they are older. Consequently, support for these students – financial and otherwise - will also look a bit different. Which begs the question, are state financial aid policies really responding to these populations?

Both Education Commission of the States  and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) have been examining this question for the last two years, and the answer is complicated, as is the context. Every state looks different in terms of resources, needs and political climate. However, across just about all states, we consistently found a gap in the accessibility of state financial aid programs for adult students. Based on the diversity of enrollment patterns, needs and demographics of today’s students, the largest state grant programs are not always serving the growing diversity of students. Twenty-nine of the largest state aid programs will only fund full-time students, and 33 are strictly merit-based. Additionally, a handful of states limit eligibility for state grants based on a small window of time since high school completion, virtually disqualifying adult students solely based on age.

Nonetheless, there are cases of success that we can all learn from. A number of states have made intentional efforts to respond to the vastly changing needs of nontraditional students. States like Indiana have built public awareness campaigns and specified targeted grant aid opportunities for adults in response to the changing demands of the economy and the growing needs of students, and states like Minnesota have continuously evolved their state aid programs to become more accessible to students from all walks of life.

On Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. ET, representatives from both states will highlight these examples in a webinar led by Education Commission of the States and CLASP to help build awareness, offer guidance, and encourage peer learning among states around state financial aid and adult students. By building a community around these issues, we hope to change the narrative and inform policy around adult students. By serving all students, states are better positioned to meet their workforce goals while extending opportunities to those who need them most.

This post was originally featured on the Ed Note Blog of the Education Commission of the States


site by Trilogy Interactive