The state of Georgia will be taking a hard look at college graduation rates with an eye toward tweaking the funding formula for the University System of Georgia. Currently, the main driver for the state funds contributed to each institution within the system is college enrollment. Gov. Nathan Deal is currently working with Chancellor Hank Huckabee to create a formula that sets each schools funding based on how many students each school manages to have students leave with diplomas rather than to see how many they can attract to campus each fall.
Huckabee, a former state legislator, was appointed chancellor in large part because the legislature and governor wanted someone from within their ranks who understood the budgets of the system schools could not continue to grow faster than the rate of inflation, and -- equally importantly -- the rate of growth in tax revenues and HOPE scholarship funds.
The funding tweak, however, is not being billed so much as an attempt to control the growth of expenses from the University system, but rather to make sure Georgia's taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment, and that schools are actually achieving their core mission.
Initial skepticism to the change in approach appears to be centered on whether this would just turn schools into diploma mills, with schools encouraged to lessen graduation standards in order to continue to maximize receipt of state dollars. A friend of mine who is a University System employee scoffed at the notion, and explained it in generally layman's terms of how this move would likely be better.
Each school already has an academic program that is reviewed by an outside accreditation agency. That will continue, including the graduation requirements under each program for each school. Thus, to increase the number of students who graduate by passing more students, each school would have to "encourage" tenured faculty to lower their standards and move more students through the pipeline than they currently do.
My friend asked how many tenured professors I knew. Well, we'll call it more than a few of them. And knowing them and their reaction to ultimatums from on high, I understand his reasoning. To put a finer point on it, he continued with another question: If you wanted to game the system to increase funding for your school, which would be easier to do -- get your entire faculty to lower their standards and pass students or inflate grades for those who are underserving, or hire two or three admissions officials who are more than willing to look the other way on admissions standards if enrollment goals aren't being met?
I accept his logic. More importantly, I accept this goal.
College is becoming prohibitively expensive these days. There are too many students graduating with five or six figures of student debt and limited job prospects. Under this scenario, they appear to be the lucky ones. Less than half of the students who enroll in the University system graduate within 6 years. Presumably, many of them also leave with student debt, yet no diploma to improve their prospects for employment beyond their high school diploma.
The change in approach is based on a sound goal. More students who enter a college or university in Georgia need to leave with a diploma. More importantly, there needs to be an increased focus on linking the degrees offered to employment opportunities here in the state. This would ensure that not only the students are well served, but the taxpayers receive a return on their investment as well.
To that end, an additional sweetener should be included as the funding formula is revised. Colleges and universities should receive additional funds based on the percent of graduates who have found work in their field within 6 months of graduation.
If we're trying to focus on the real goals, let's go ahead and get that specific.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.