One new approach to funding American public education

The state of Kentucky is considering an interesting new method for funding public colleges and universities.  It’s worth looking into because it could point the way for other states.  It also embodies several trends we’ve been discussing.

The key theme seems to be tying state funding to higher education performance.  Not grades, but certain degrees.  Consider:

schools would have to improve in the following areas: the number of bachelor’s degrees produced, the number of STEM + H (science, technology, engineering, math and health) degrees produced, the number of degrees earned by underrepresented minorities and degrees produced by low income students.

Kentucky Country Roads

Kentucky Country Roads, by Alan Levine.

Notice the combination of different political agendas in that group.  There’s support of the sciences and technology, perhaps most often seen from libertarians and pro-business Republicans.  There’s emphasis on underrepresented minorities and students from poor families, calls for which we normally see from Democrats.

This is not extra money.  What makes this interesting, and perhaps risky, is that it’s a formula for allocating basic state support.  “More than 30 states already have performance funding as part of their funding, but those have always been added with new money, not base funding.”

There are obvious risks, one being that such financial inducements could tempt departments and programs to make those degrees easier to get.  One Facebook commentator observed that such an arrangement would make professional associations more valuable as quality guarantors.   It could also lead to rising tuition, as one campus leader observes:

Morehead State University President Wayne Andrews says he has a problem because the formula does not taken tuition into account, and several schools charge higher tuition and get more from out-of-state students.

To be fair, this is just talk at the moment.  The linked article points to announcements a month from now.  But the idea is fascinating.

It embodies the trend of increased attention to STEM fields (nobody’s calling for tying public funds to more degrees in the arts or history).  It builds on the growing demand for academic accountability.  The discussion also draws attention to recent concern about economic and racial inequality.

Have you seen anything like this in your state or other country?

(photo by Alan Levine; thanks to Christel Broady for the link)

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