Will New Funding Rules Improve Dismal University Graduation Rates?
So many students will graduate from Slippery Rock University this spring that administrators have had to limit the number of guests each one can invite.
There isn’t enough room in the basketball arena for everybody.
At a time when American higher education is under fire for dismal graduation rates that have eroded the nation’s leadership in college degree-holders, this public university in western Pennsylvania will graduate a record number of students, and do so more quickly than in years past.
That’s because Slippery Rock has built in aggressive new measures to help students succeed — and eliminated many obstacles that make success so elusive almost everywhere else.
It lowered the number of credits required to graduate, which, as at many other schools, had been creeping up and keeping students in school longer. It trained residence-hall staff to watch for signs of academic or personal problems such as absences or poor grades. It clustered students with the same majors in dorms so they can help one another with class work, and hired 90 peer tutors to run a tutoring center in the library.
Altruism alone didn’t compel the university to take these steps. It was money — $1.5 million a year, to be exact.
Slippery Rock may be the poster child for a resurgent idea called “performance funding,” which pays public universities to meet goals set by increasingly results-conscious state legislatures.
Under Pennsylvania’s performance-funding formula, Slippery Rock has earned as much as $1.5 million a year more from the state for improving its outcomes than it would have otherwise, said provost William Williams.
“Whether you like this method or not, the purpose was to drive up the quality of this institution,” Williams said. “It’s what we should have been about anyway.”
Yet, until now, public universities and colleges were largely given money based on how many students they enrolled, not how many actually graduated.
The schools didn’t focus on success, said Williams, “because they didn’t have to.”
Now their budgets are beginning to depend on it.