POSTED BY MARTIN KICH
What follows is the second section of the most recent higher education report produced by the Ohio Conference of AAUP. John McNay, the President of the Conference, and Sara Kilpatrick, the Executive Director of the Conference, deserves kudos for doing the bulk of the work on this report. The report has been distributed to all of the members of the Ohio legislature and the state’s major newspapers, several of whom have done follow-up investigative reporting on the topics covered in the report.
The previous Ohio Higher Ed Report was similarly published in sections to this blog. The links to those posts, as well as to the first post in this series, are provided at the end of this post.
In 2012, our association wrote to Gov. Kasich asking that faculty be involved in the discussions related to a new funding formula, since it is the faculty who do the core work of our colleges and universities and ultimately determine who will complete courses and graduate; these are, after all, the criteria that make up the bulk of the new formula. Instead, the development of the new funding formula was a closed-door process among the college and university presidents, who, quite frankly, agreed to a formula that financially harmed more institutions than it helped.
Most of Ohio’s public institutions of higher education are not as highly selective as Ohio State and Miami University. The open-access campuses have been hurt by the funding formula, while the selective institutions–-the ones that are already in better financial shape–-get rewarded even more. This formula incentivizes institutions to be more selective with admissions, which can have the effect of limiting access for students who may not have excelled in high school. In seeking only students who are more certain to graduate, universities, rather than focusing on serving their regions, are looking further afield, actively recruiting out-of-state and even foreign students who can pay full tuition but are less likely to remain in Ohio after they graduate.
Researchers at Columbia University, who studied the impact of the new funding formula in Ohio in 2015, found that the state’s universities were moving resources from financially-needy students to merit students who were more likely to pass classes and graduate and thus generate financial return. 5 This, combined with the un-restored funding to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, creates a situation that works against our less prepared students who also typically come from low-income households.
Of special concern regarding the new formula is exactly how the funding of the 24 open- access regional campuses is changing their important role and character as places of opportunity. Several of the regionals have faced severe budget deficits under the new funding system since their primary role–-to prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions–-is not rewarded, and their direct funding from the legislature has been taken away.
One important change the new funding formula failed to make was to direct more financial resources toward the instructional mission of our institutions. For too long, our universities have been burdened by ever-increasing levels of bureaucracy: vice presidents, associate and assistant vice-presidents, provosts, associate and assistant provosts, deans, associate and assistant deans, and more and more support personnel to staff the offices of each of these administrators—none of whom ever see the inside of a classroom or laboratory.
Indeed, we’ve seen administrators and administrative staff added to keep track of not only the new funding formula but also to manage initiatives such as College Credit Plus. State lawmakers should be aware that these mandates are exacerbating the problem of administrative bloat.
Given the emphasis on course completions, another concern is that faculty will inevitably be pressured to pass students in order to boost the course completion rate and, in the end, the graduation rate. Passing or graduating students who are not suitably prepared in order to increase the number of Ohioans with college degrees benefits no one. We believe that our faculty are standing up to the challenge and continuing to hold students to a high standard, even if it costs the institution revenue. But the long-term implications of creating incentives to lower standards to insure funding will undermine the value of the degrees that our institutions award—both for the students completing those degrees and for their potential and eventual employers.
The imposition of the funding formula in 2012 has encouraged some universities to adopt an internal Performance-Based Budgeting (PBB) strategy (sometimes call RCM for Responsibility-Centered Management). With revenue for each college, department, and program being determined almost completely by student headcount in courses and programs, locking the students into a program becomes a matter of survival. But it does not necessarily benefit students.
One of the undervalued aspects of a college education is that students often discover new academic interests and cultivate unexpected talents. RCM budgeting discourages interdisciplinary studies, which not only greatly benefits students but also is producing the most cutting-edge research in areas such as bio-engineering and communication technologies.
Moreover, the “siloing” that RCM budgeting inevitably rewards leads colleges to duplicate courses traditionally offered in other colleges so that as many credit hours as possible that are completed by a college’s majors are fully credited to that college. (For example, science departments are offering “history” electives in the history of science, and engineering departments are offering courses in technical communications.) This instructional redundancy is a by-product of ill-conceived fiscal modeling of corporate practices and a parallel to administrative bloat.
In sum, the new formula routinely fails to address quality and instead focuses solely on quantity. It creates unnecessary conflict between colleges and departments over courses, students, and faculty. It eliminates the ability for collaboration and team teaching. And it constructs impervious silos around colleges and programs as everyone struggles to grab the scarce revenue generated by course completions and graduations.
Colleges and universities that have the lowest student success rate are those that invest the least in classroom instruction. You cannot expect success across the university system in Ohio when there are disparities in how much each institution is able or willing to invest in the instructional mission. Too often, our university administrations are opting to hire part-time faculty because of the much lower cost, but this practice does not represent a serious commitment to instruction.
None of this criticism should be seen as not understanding the plight of students who might enter a university, spend time taking courses, fail to graduate, and end up with nothing but debt to show for it. On the contrary, we want more funding to be directed toward instruction, advising, and need-based aid so that students are less likely to face those consequences. This focus on student success is an opportunity for the legislature to begin to reverse the decades- long withdrawal of public funding from our colleges and universities and to encourage colleges and universities to direct more revenue toward education and research.
Previous Post in This Series:
2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1: https://academeblog.org/2017/05/22/education-first-ohio-higher-education-report-for-2016-2017-part-1/.
Links to 2015 Ohio Higher Education Report
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/20/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-1/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/20/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-2/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 3: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/21/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-3/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 4: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/21/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-4/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 5: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-5/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 6: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/27/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-6/.
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