State campus funding wins OK

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More than half of the state’s universities would lose funding under the state’s productivity model, while a recommended productivity fund of $6.4 million for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is 11 times more than any other school would receive.

The state Higher Education Coordinating Council on Friday approved recommendations for annual funding distributions under a model that has been championed as a way to prioritize student success and program completion. , including by Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Now in its sixth year, the state’s current productivity model involves a formula that weighs heavily on “efficiency,” which includes degrees awarded.

Recommendations approved by the governor’s appointed board on Friday are that six of 10 universities lose their productivity funding. Among two-year colleges, productivity funding gains are recommended for 16 out of 22 schools.

A Democrat-Gazette analysis earlier this year found that UA-Fayetteville earned a cumulative total of $36.9 million in incremental productivity-based funding dollars over an initial fiscal year 2018 funding base. , with no other college or state university seeing cumulative gains. greater than $10.8 million.

Recommendations approved Friday for the 2023-2024 fiscal year — if approved by lawmakers — would widen that gap.

Justin Ortagus, a University of Florida researcher who studies state higher education funding policies, called Arkansas’s recommended productivity distribution for 2023-24 “more skewed than usual.” , though he added that such funding models often benefit the so-called “flagship” of the state. universities like UA-Fayetteville.

“If the goal is to graduate more students, it is understandable that policymakers direct resources to institutions deemed most likely to graduate students. Unfortunately, productivity-based funding leads to unintended consequences, such as than allocating fewer resources to already underfunded institutions,” Ortagus said in an email.

The governor-appointed coordinating council approved the recommendations based on year-over-year changes in what’s called a school’s productivity index.

Mark Rushing, a spokesman for UA-Fayetteville, questioned whether the model led to inequitable funding, said the $6.4 million recommendation was not a one-year increase on the another from AU funding.

Rushing said the recommended year-over-year increase is about $3.3 million, as funding for the 2022-23 fiscal year under the formula was $130,852,703 and the recommendation for the 2023-2024 fiscal year is $134,196,542.

The ‘total funding change’ recommendation for 2023-24 approved on Friday refers to the 2023-24 ‘base’ level of funding which is lower than what the AU actually received in the 2022-23 financial year. , as this year included one-time incentive funding.

Rushing in an email, the state’s formula does not pit schools against each other, “but rather the formula measures each institution against itself based on how well that institution improves each year. “.

State colleges and universities can gain or lose funding each year under the system. Funding losses are reallocated to schools with an improved productivity index, which particularly benefited UA-Fayetteville this year, as the state’s largest university posted greater index gains than any other university.

Rushing said the improvement in AU’s index resulted from awarding bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as “other high-demand fields.”

“Additionally, since the 2017 inception of the Productivity Funding Formula, the U of A has significantly increased its student retention and graduation rates while reducing the time to graduation,” Rushing said. .

Ortagus said that “productivity-based funding allows wealthy institutions to get richer while institutions with minimal resources are allocated even less.”

Losses for universities would range from $118,253 for Henderson State University to $757,102 for Arkansas Tech University.

Sam Strasner, a spokesperson for Arkansas Tech, described in an email the effects of the pandemic on enrollment as a factor in the school’s declining productivity index.

“Institutions such as Arkansas Tech serve a significant number of low-income and first-generation students, and the ability of these students to enroll in a university and persevere through graduation has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and associated economic effects,” Strasner said in an email.

Maria Markham, director of the state’s Higher Education Division, told members of the governor’s Higher Education Coordinating Council on Friday that by October, a report on the productivity funding of the state would be published.

Alisha Lewis, spokeswoman for the state agency, said a group of higher education professionals evaluate the productivity model annually, adding that any recommendations for change would be presented to the board in October.

Strasner, with Arkansas Tech, brought up conversations about the state’s productivity model.

“Like most public policies, the productivity model can be adjusted over time to meet the changing higher education needs of the people of Arkansas,” Strasner said. “As stakeholders and policymakers weigh these factors, Arkansas Tech looks forward to participating in conversations that support the best interests of its students, ensure the institution’s continued financial health, and are aligned with the overall health of the community. Higher Education Ecosystem in Arkansas.”

Terisa Riley, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, said in a statement that a recommended cut in productivity funding would hurt the university. UAFS is recommended to lose $438,272 in productivity funding.

Riley also said state leaders earlier this year adjusted funding per full-time equivalent student, increasing it for the Fort Smith campus and two other universities. She praised Hutchinson “for recognizing an inequity and taking steps to begin to gradually correct this problem.”

“As it stands, the loss of $438,000 is a major challenge and equates to the salaries and benefits of approximately seven [full-time equivalent] employees (assuming an average salary and benefits of $65,000/year). Conversely, we would need to increase enrollment for 55 full-time students who receive no institutional scholarships to fully compensate for the financial loss,” Riley said.

Riley said UAFS lost productivity points “in the areas of retention, persistence, and timely completion of credentials and degrees.”

“While we look forward to a rebound in enrollment as we weather pandemic-related losses, UAFS leaders have both anticipated and planned for the decline we have seen over the past two academic years. Understand the bleak enrollment forecasts for regional public institutions across the country, it’s no surprise to see this reflected in productivity funding losses for institutions our size,” Riley said.

Among other universities recommended to suffer productivity losses, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff would lose $457,906 in funding; the University of Arkansas at Monticello would lose $347,704; Southern Arkansas University would lose $345,572; and Henderson State University would lose $118,253.

“Overall, SAU has benefited from the productivity funding formula,” Magnolia campus spokesperson Shelly Whaley said in an email, adding that since the first year of the current model, the university outperformed other schools in its productivity index.

Whaley, explaining the recent drop in the index, said students majoring in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – who had been counted in a ‘basic’ formula calculation have since left college. . The state productivity formula gives additional weight to STEM degrees.

“These graduate students were the reason for our decline,” Whaley said.

George Cotton Sr., vice chancellor for institutional advancement at UAPB, in a statement referenced efforts at the historically black university to support students during the covid-19 pandemic.

“Overall, covid has had a much worse negative impact on African American communities than other ethnic groups. This pandemic has hit our students hard – there is no getting around that fact,” said Cotton. He said the school in the previous year’s recommendations had index gains and he hoped lawmakers would keep funding stable.

Besides the $6.4 million from UA-Fayetteville, the second most important recommendation for productivity funding would go to Arkansas State University. The governor-appointed board approved a recommended amount of $544,585 for the Jonesboro campus, which by enrollment is the second-largest in the state behind UA-Fayetteville.

“A-State has focused and excelled in several areas of the formula related to student success and effectiveness,” said Arkansas State University System spokesman Jeff Hankins in an e-mail. mail.

Along with UA-Fayetteville and Arkansas State, the board approved recommendations for two more universities — the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Central Arkansas — to receive productivity funding.

PSU would receive $187,833 in productivity funding, while UCA would receive $81,644.

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