As anticipated, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board today approved Gov. Hutchinson’s proposal to transform Arkansas’s method of funding colleges and universities from a formula based largely on student enrollment to one based on student performance metrics (such as completion of degrees).

The legislature will take up the subject in the 2017 session.


Hutchinson wants schools to be held accountable for delivering results. That sounds great, especially when you consider the shockingly low graduation rates that are the norm in higher ed (especially two-year schools) and the debt often accrued by students that leave college without a degree. But as we noted earlier in the week, there’s also concern an “outcomes-based” approach like the governor wants could create perverse incentives for schools to shy away from recruiting students who are a riskier gamble, so to speak — among low-income and nontraditional students, to name two groups. Hutchinson and Republicans in the state legislature refuse to boost overall funding for higher ed to keep pace with inflation, meanwhile.

The University of Arkansas is supporting the change. UA System President Donald R. Bobbitt and UA Fayetteville Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz both released statements the shift in funding. (Their full statements are at the bottom of this post.)


An editorial in the Democrat-Gazette today raised another legitimate area of concern about an “outcomes-based” funding model: standards.

“In college, grade inflation already is a problem, according to those in the know. If the state starts tying college funding to the number of degrees coming out of them, whats to keep those institutions from becoming diploma mills?

This is interesting, considering the D-G’s editorial page is the state’s top promoter of “school reform” at the K-12 level, including merit pay and standards-based accountability. As the paper notes, though, one big difference between K-12 and higher ed is standardized tests, which (theoretically) provide a common, quantitative metric used to gauge school performance. 


“Outside of Atlanta, Ga., the accuracy of the test scores isn’t really debated,” it says. 

Incidentally, that line is nonsense. The Atlanta scandal is the highest profile example, but cheating on K-12 standardized tests isn’t unique to Georgia. It’s hardly surprising that when you tie the survival of a school to a single make-or-break score, the desperate and the unscrupulous will sometimes manipulate the numbers.

Despite the blinders, the D-G still has a point. Within the logic of the school reform movement, accountability is everything. If there’s no standardized testing, how can there be real accountability? And, once again, this could be an especially pronounced problem within colleges and universities that serve a population of students more likely to struggle in school. What incentive do those institutions have to keep their standards high if doing so might result in being slapped by the state for underperformance on graduation rates? 

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office, followed by the statement from UA leaders.


Governor Asa Hutchinson announces 21st Century Funding Formula for State’s Higher Education Institutions

LITTLE ROCK – Today Governor Asa Hutchinson announced support of a plan to fundamentally change the funding formula for the state’s higher education institutions. The proposed Higher Education Productivity Funding Model follows an outcomes-based approach, which will place a higher priority on program completion than the previous formula. The Arkansas Department of Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the proposal in a unanimous vote Friday morning. The proposal will now go before the legislature during the 2017 general session. If the measure is adopted, Arkansas will become only the fifth state to make significant progress toward funding higher education based on outcomes – joining Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, and Oregon.

Governor Hutchinson issued the following statement:

“I am pleased to announce my support of the productivity funding model for Arkansas’s higher education institutions. At my direction, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education began to look at potential changes to our current funding formula that would emphasize accountability, student success, and degree completion. These changes will promote efficiency of operations, encourage on-time completion, and encourage allocation of resources to areas which directly impact student success, such as faculty salaries and academic support services.

“My priority continues to be increasing the percentage of Arkansans that are career-ready, equipped with degrees and industry-recognized certificates, and this new revolutionary funding model will help us achieve just that.”

Dr. Brett Powell, Director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, issued the following statement:

“Outcomes-based funding represents a fundamental shift in the way we think about how the state invests in higher education. Instead of an enrollment-centered formula, this model focuses on program completions and, as a result, it emphasizes success and incentivizes institutional leaders to prioritize the types of activities that lead to successful students. I am pleased that we are considering this important change, particularly considering the opportunity it gives us to connect funding to Governor Hutchinson’s priority of increasing post-secondary attainment in Arkansas.”

Ann Clemmer, interim Director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, issued the following statement:

“The proposed funding formula will be a great tool to bring about more equitable funding in Arkansas higher education. It puts funding incentives in place to reward schools for their students’ success.”

Colleges and universities in the state have been funded based on a needs-based model that is driven by enrollments and emphasizes access to higher education in its approach. The proposed model follows an outcomes-based approach, representing a fundamental shift in the way we think about funding by moving us from an enrollment focus to a completion focus and from focusing only on access to emphasizing both access and student success.

Outcomes-based funding can be used to align institutional funding with statewide priorities for higher education by encouraging programs and services focused on student success and incentivizing progress toward statewide goals. At the same time, such models encourage accountability to students and policymakers by focusing on the success of students through the achievement of their educational goals. Any new funding model must be built around a set of shared principles embraced by institutions, employing appropriate outcomes metrics, and aligned with goals and objectives for post-secondary attainment in our state and encouraging accountability to stakeholders.

From the University of Arkansas:

UA System President, Chancellors Support Funding Formula
(LITTLE ROCK) July 29, 2016 – University of Arkansas System President Donald R. Bobbitt, along with other chancellors representing its colleges and universities, today released statements in support of a new outcomes-based funding formula for the state’s higher education institutions.

The Arkansas Department of Higher Education Coordinating Board today unanimously passed the framework for an outcomes-based funding model, which will shift funding emphasis from enrollment toward student success and completion incentives.

Donald R. Bobbitt, president, University of Arkansas System

“The state’s future rests upon having available an educated workforce so we can grow our existing industries and attract new and innovative opportunities. Education completion coupled with abundant economic options proves to be synonymous with vibrant communities and a healthier state. Anything we can do as a state to improve student success is a top priority within the UA System. The funding mechanism that supports completion is a step in the right direction and it reinforces our mission to prepare students to be contributing members of the state’s economy and a supportive backbone within the communities they choose to live.”

Joseph E. Steinmetz, chancellor, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

“Getting higher education funding right is vital to the public institutions across the state of Arkansas. We are appreciative of the great amount of research, planning and work that went into the development of a re-calibrated funding formula, which importantly emphasizes successful student outcomes, a priority at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Support from the state is critical to our ability to create a high-caliber educational experience for students and I applaud Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s leadership in prioritizing higher education through his master plan.”

Chris Thomason, chancellor, University of Arkansas Community College at Hope

“At UA Hope-Texarkana, we embrace the collaborative process that the Arkansas Department of Higher Education has spearheaded to create an effectively designed funding formula that produces positive outcomes for all Arkansans. As chancellor of a community college serving many first-generation and non-traditional students, I know that we must continue to ensure that more students reach their goal of obtaining a degree or certificate in order to improve their own well being and that of our state as a whole.”