Georgia Voices: College Funding — Plan has merits and pitfalls
by The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer
December 21, 2012 12:00 AM | 2516 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Call it merit pay for Georgia’s public colleges and universities. The task now is to make sure it truly measures merit.

A commission appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal has approved a new higher education funding philosophy that ties state money not just to how many students attend or how many classes they take, but to how many of them actually graduate. At least one school president, Columbus State University’s Tim Mescon, approves the concept, especially in light of CSU’s rising graduation and retention numbers.

“We believe in it,” Meson said. “We think that it’s critical if we recruit capable students into the university system that we need to help them progress year to year and graduate in a reasonable amount of time.”

No argument here, especially given Georgia’s recent dismal statistics in that regard.It’s not a new problem.

The University System Board of Regents put the pressure on schools two years ago to improve their graduation rates. Yet the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported in March that only 24 percent of entering freshmen at Georgia’s public colleges and universities graduate in four years, and just 52 percent in six. (The national four-year graduation rate at public institutions of higher learning is a less-than-stellar 31 percent, according to Washington Monthly.)

Whatever the obstacles, the governor in February announced a goal of 250,000 more graduates by 2020, and with the new funding proposal he has asked for detailed plans from Georgia universities and colleges, including technical colleges, on how they will help more students earn degrees or certificates.The concept of funding schools based on actual student achievement, as opposed to mere involvement, is hard to debate.

Still, there are a couple of variables that should, and we’re confident will, be taken into account. One is what might be called graduation inflation, a college version of the grade inflation we saw in the early and financially flush years of HOPE. Students whose high school grades supposedly qualified them for the scholarship found themselves unprepared for academic or technical college work. From HOPE to remedial courses became a too-familiar pattern in Georgia postsecondary education.When huge amounts of money are at stake for already cash-challenged schools, the temptation just to hand out more diplomas and certificates — in effect simply rewriting the numbers on the scale -— could be powerful.

The other variable, as long as we’re on the subject of money, is money. Literally millions of American students leave postsecondary education not because they can’t hack it scholastically, but because they can’t hack it financially.

Soaring cost as a factor in graduation rates is a hard reality.

There’s time to factor such details into the formula. The bottom line will be about results.
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