EDUCATION

Education analysts urge lawmakers to base college funding on degrees earned

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

New Jersey is not one of the 30 states that fund higher education based on outcomes like graduation rates or earned degrees. Critics insist the state is just getting around to drafting a funding plan.

The state’s Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis says “the state’s operating support to institutions hasn’t kept up with the number of students in the system.”

That contributes to college affordability, ballooning student loan debt and it gets in the way of this goal for New Jersey’s adults.

“To achieve 65 percent postsecondary credential attainment by 2025,” she said.

The joint Senate and Assembly Higher Education Committee invited Smith Ellis and others to testify about best practices from other states for outcome-based funding. One expert recommends aligning goals with the state’s spending priorities and focus on degree completion instead of on-time graduation rates.

“A model should encourage the success of priority populations, such as low-income, adults and underrepresented minority students. There’s several reasons for this. First, you do not want to restrict access to only the students most likely to succeed,” said Martha Snyder, senior director at HCM Strategists.

The Education Trust says research shows what outcome-based funding can mean for equity.

“Campuses enrolling the largest proportions of low-income students and students of color often end up with the least funding. We know that this is true, even outside of outcome-based funding,” said Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at The Education Trust.

Research for Action says states such as New Jersey realized to meet admissions attainment goals, all students must achieve at higher rates.

“Outcomes-based funding in many states is becoming more focused on improving outcomes for traditionally underserved students because in doing so, the state will improve its relative advantage in competing for high-wage jobs and it will also generate more tax dollars,” Kate Shaw from Research for Action.

The College of New Jersey’s new president just came from Maine — a state with outcome-based funding for public colleges.

“It isn’t a matter of simply putting fannies in seats, as they says, but making sure there are support systems and the kinds of, really the quality of the education to make sure that degree means something and students have a good chance for post-graduation success,” said TCNJ President Kathryn Foster.

The experts offered the joint committee several examples of how other states are achieving their goals in terms of funding higher education. The committee says it hopes by this time next year New Jersey will be the model to emulate.