The possibility of using certain performance measures as a basis for state higher education funding should spur an interesting discussion at the Kansas Board of Regents retreat that starts today.
The Kansas Legislature has expressed an interest in using some kind of “performance-based budgeting” process in Kansas, according to Regents Chairman Kenny Wilk. Other states are talking about such a system, Wilk said, and the Kansas regents should at least discuss the idea.
Where does that discussion start?
The main challenge for any performance-based budgeting was pinpointed by an official with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems who will facilitate the regents’ discussion of the issue. “If there is not a clear statement of goals that has broad bipartisan acceptance,” said the official, “there is almost no chance of creating an outcomes-based funding model that can last.”
Reaching a “clear statement of goals” that is agreeable to both state legislators and higher education officials is no easy task.
For instance, the regents came up with their own set of goals last year, including one that aimed to increase the number of Kansans who have earned a post-secondary certificate, credential or degree to 60 percent by 2020. Currently, about 52 percent of Kansans meet that goal, and the regents saw the increase as critical to the state’s future. Even though everyone with a trade certificate to a doctoral degree would be counted in that 60 percent, the regents drew criticism from at least one legislator who saw their goal as “elitist.”
Graduation rates might be one way to measure outcomes, but there may be disagreement about what measures are acceptable to ensure that more students earn degrees in two or four years. For instance, some legislators may balk at raising admissions standards, as Kansas University has done, as a way to ensure entering students are well-prepared to complete degrees. It’s also important not to water down degree requirements in order to boost graduation rates.
At the heart of this debate is the need for the regents and university leaders to prove to legislators how important higher education is to the future of the state. Using performance measures to justify funding is a two-way street. Currently, legislators seem unwilling to increase higher education funding for almost any reason. In fact, Kansas already has approved a system that ties new state funds to specific university goals, but since state universities haven’t received any new base funding in recent years, the system hasn’t been used.
It’s good that the regents are having this discussion, but reaching consensus among themselves on performance-based budgeting goals won’t mean much unless they do a far better job in telling their story and providing the evidence that will justify legislative support, positive action and adequate funding.