Massachusetts adopts performance funding

Massachusetts will link community college funding to improvements in graduation rates, job training and minority student success, reports Marcella Bombardieri in the Boston Globe. Half of each college’s budget will hinge on performance when the program is fully phased in within a few years. That’s one of the most ambitious performance-funding programs in the nation.

Every community college president endorsed the plan, a turnaround from less than two years ago when reform proposals from Governor Deval Patrick and others met with outrage among community college leaders.

A $20 million boost in funding from the Legislature, after years of budget cuts, helped make the idea palatable, and no campus is losing money this year, so they have time to adjust to the new standards.

The change also redresses huge imbalances that left the best-funded community colleges — topped by the scandal-plagued Roxbury Community College — getting more than double the money per student than the most starved campuses received.

The state’s 15 community colleges educate about half of public college students in Massachusetts.

Nine states have linked some higher education funding to performance, typically 5 to 10 percent of the budget.  The outlier is Tennessee, which linked all higher education budget to performance three years ago. Performance is improving, reports the Globe.

. . . an earlier wave of state performance funding initiatives failed to help students do better, said Kevin Dougherty, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, in part because the amount of money that states put on the line was too small.

The idea also carries risks, he said. To boost their statistics, colleges could quietly cut back on recruiting at weaker high schools whose graduates are often ill-prepared, or encourage students not to enroll in difficult classes they are less likely to pass.

Massachusetts and other states are designing benchmarks more carefully and putting more money on the table, said Dougherty.  “A more effective form of performance funding may be emerging, but I think we want to be cautious.”

The Massachusetts plan starts every community college with an operating subsidy of $4.5 million. Half of the remaining allocation will be distributed based on student credit hours completed, weighted for the cost of teaching in different fields. Colleges won’t get any money for students who drop classes.

The other half of the remaining funding will be based on the numbers of students who earn degrees or certificates, or transfer with a certain number of credits. Colleges will get extra credit for degrees in fields with high workforce demand, such as science, health care, and technology, and or the successes of African-American, Latino, and low-income students.

Under the old funding scheme, Bristol Community College, based in Fall River, and Quinsigamond Community College, in Worcester, received less than $3,000 per student in 2010, while Roxbury Community College received more than $6,000 per student, according to the Boston Foundation. This year, Bristol is getting a 21 percent boost and Quinsigamond is getting 26 percent more.

The Hechnger Report’s Jon Marcus discusses performance funding with two Massachusetts community college presidents on WBUR, a Boston radio station.

‘Middle college’ draws high-risk students

Aa the fishing industry declined in New Bedford, Massachusetts, high school dropout rates rose. However, Bristol Community College is partnering with high schools to reduce dropouts through a Middle College program that lets students earn college and high school credits at the same time.

Dropouts or students at risk of dropping out must pass placement tests and be interviewed to get into Middle College.

 In just one year, Middle College has yielded success. What started as a 20-person cohort boomed to nearly 70 this past September, with more growth expected as the program continues to send high school grads out into the real world. Program leaders attribute the jump in enrollment to not only the partnership with the local schools, but word-of-mouth endorsements from current students to friends or family in similar circumstances.

“I was out of high school for five years before a friend recommended Middle College to me,” said Michael Camara, a first-year student in the program. “So I took the placement tests, I got accepted and now I’m on my way to my degree in business entrepreneurship. It’s tough, balancing family and school—I do have a three-year-old at home—but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Of five students who completed their high school diplomas in Middle College’s first year, three are enrolled at BCC and a fourth plans to enroll this spring.

About to become a father, Darius Payne explains why he enrolled in Middle College. “I don’t want to be a bum raising a child. I want to have something, show something to my child.”