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.

Massachusetts links colleges, employers

Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges are working with industry on workforce development with the help of a $20 million federal grant, reports Worcester Business Journal.

The Massachusetts Community Colleges and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda (MCCWDTA) is redesigning degree and certificate programs in six high-demand industries: health care, biotechnology and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and sustainability, information technology and financial services.

Students will brush up on academic skills while training for jobs, said Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates in a speech at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. “They cannot sit in a classroom for two semesters because they need to brush up on fractions and decimals,” Oates said.

College and career navigators will help students enroll in courses and use the One‐Stop Career Center on each campus under the new initiative. Industry representatives, college administrators and faculty will design job training programs together.

Without Pell, summer enrollment slips

Without the year-round Pell Grant, which was cut from the federal budget in 2011 in a bipartisan compromise, summer enrollments are down at many community colleges, reports Inside Higher Ed.  College leaders fear graduation rates will fall too.

President Obama suggested ending the program, which had spiraled to $8 billion in three years, to save the maximum grant of $5,550. The administration said there was no evidence offering summer grants had raised graduation rates.

With many low-income students, community colleges are especially worried about the effect of losing year-round Pell Grants.

At Cuyahoga Community College, students have opted to work in the summer rather than stretch their Pell Grant across an additional few months of classes, says Belinda Miles, the college’s provost, who adds that about 850 students were affected by the change. She worries that students who opt not to attend in the summer will take longer to finish college.

“We administrators like to think of summer as a third full semester as opposed to a break,” Miles said.

At Quinsigamond Community College, in Worcester, Mass., summer enrollment dropped by 5 percent this year after five years of increases.