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Should Washington pay schools more for better results?

Guest Opinion: Washington continues to face a crisis in higher education funding. Performance-driven incentives for public universities is one solution.
A scene from the University of Washington campus

A scene from the University of Washington campus Allie Holzman/Flickr

The Great Recession and the ensuing budget crises in Olympia have led to years of compounding cuts in our higher education system. Extensive tuition increases from 2007 to 2011 have hurt middle class students and families as well as those aspiring to move into the middle class through the upward mobility that a college education has historically afforded.

The recent trend of 15- and 20-percent tuition increases has forced many students to dramatically increase their debt loads, which can take decades to pay off. This in addition to those who can’t access higher education at all because of the cost. The lack of state support for higher ed has also hurt the quality of our institutions by increasing class sizes, making it harder for students to finish in four years and forcing top faculty to leave for better-paying institutions.

In 2012, we put a tourniquet on the higher ed bleeding by holding the line on further cuts in state support, but our support for the cost of educating college students now sits at a historically low 35 percent of the total cost of an education. While we may have stopped the bleeding, we must now begin the healing. Our long-term goal should be to return this state to an equal balance of state support and tuition, with 50 percent coming from each, by the year 2020.

To this end, we’ve introduced legislation to get our higher education system back on track. This plan would institute a new and innovative funding model for universities that would build on the broader public policy goals we've already set for our system. The funding bill, now before the Senate Ways and Means committee, would invest about $200 million during this budget cycle and prevent tuition increases for the next two years.

Even as we amp up our public investment in the system, we need to ensure that the additional dollars drive our public universities to produce the educational outcomes we need. For example, nearly every day we hear from the tech sector in our state that they cannot find the knowledge-based employees they need. Two years ago, we passed landmark legislation that requires our institutions to improve on their efforts to produce this type of workforce. It’s time to build on that effort by using additional investments in the coming years to incentivize our universities to pursue these goals even more aggressively.

For this reason, we have introduced the Educational Achievement and Tuition Reduction Incentive Program. This funding model doesn’t punish institutions – it rewards those that excel. You could think of it as a “Race to the Top” for our universities. The incentives for additional funding are based on performance according to metrics such as the number of degrees awarded, time-to-degree completion, STEM degrees and degrees received by members of underserved communities. Importantly, an additional incentive metric will be the degree to which our institutions operate efficiently and keep tuition affordable and stable. We would be the second state in the country to establish an incentive funding model that includes a tuition metric.

Two years ago, we passed reforms that require universities to track and report on these metrics. This proposal would put dollars behind those reforms and let us award additional funding based on how well the schools meet their goals. The program would be monitored and implemented by a task force of experts in the field and the institutions themselves. There is no doubt that we need to increase the amount of money that our state invests in public higher education.  This model makes sure that our new investment in the system will be used as effectively as possible.

Senate Democrats have introduced the proposals described in this article. Senate Republicans are also working on a similar concept. Much has been said about the need for both parties to work together to solve critical problems. Reinvesting in our public higher education system is a goal that virtually all members of the legislature share. This is an area ripe for the parties to work together to move us in a new direction.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Feb 28, 5:01 p.m. Inappropriate

"Performance according to metrics such as the number of degrees awarded, time-to-degree completion, STEM degrees and degrees received by members of underserved communities."

Degrees received by members of underserved communities — good.

Number of degrees awarded and time to degree completion? I'm a bit worried. More and faster does not necessarily mean better. I hope the quality of the education is being measured somehow. Otherwise, this is a road to a mill.

STEM degrees? Good, but... I hope I am not witnessing the transformation of the University of Washington into Montlake Tech. Being able to get a job after college is of course important, but college is not simply vocational school, and non-STEM fields provide skills and experiences that, when combined with more practical studies, produce good workers who are also good citizens.

Posted Fri, Mar 1, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

People who go to vocational schools aren't good citizens?

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 1, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Define "underserved communities".

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 1, 11:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Kohl Welles, how do you want to pay for it? Another "progressive" tax increase, no doubt.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Mar 2, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

"...degree to which our institutions operate efficiently and keep tuition affordable and stable. We would be the second state in the country to establish an incentive funding model that includes a tuition metric."

The first state? Doesn't sound like it would be New York: http://www.villagevoice.com/2013-02-20/news/nyu-expansion/

afreeman

Posted Sun, Mar 3, 7:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Are illegal immigrants an "underserved community"?

http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2013/mar/01/college-aid-for-young-immigrants-bill-advances/#axzz2MUO2rCKb

BlueLight

Posted Sun, Mar 3, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

"Should Washington pay schools more for better results?"

How about if Washington pays its public schools for doing the job they were tasked to do, and if they don't do that job, then the people in charge of those schools are replaced with people who will get the job done?

Let's try that idea and see how it works.

Posted Sun, Mar 3, 6:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey-LaurieRogers,

Thank you for your comments. You are right on!

Also, what is Washington state going to do about lowering tuitions?

Will the madness ever end in this state?

Posted Mon, Mar 4, 6:18 a.m. Inappropriate

I would like to make sense of LaurieRogers' proposal, but I can't.

What job does LaurieRogers think our public schools were tasked to do? Are they tasked with presenting an appropriate academic opportunity to our children or do they have to get the kids to take that opportunity?

How would we measure whether the schools are doing that job or not? What's the metric and what's the benchmark? How can we know that it is honestly achieved?

To what extent are the district officials and administrators in charge of those schools responsible for the outcomes? The primary determinants of academic achievement are all home-based, not school-based. So how can we hold the schools responsible for outcomes? Do we need to allow them greater license and funding?

What is this idea?

coolpapa

Posted Mon, Mar 4, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Right, because No Child Left Behind is working so well for our K-12 schools.

Really depressing to see two Seattle Democrats leading this particular charge to destroy our state's higher education system.

junipero

Posted Mon, Mar 4, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm just glad I have no children that are seeking higher education in the State of Washington. If I did, I hightail it to a state such as Maryland. The State of Maryland created a single public higher education SYSTEM in 1989-1990 to educate the children of the state, and promote adult education. Despite the tantrums thrown by the Chancellor and Regents of UMD, the direction has been very successful, with the uniqueness of the various colleges respected and leveraged.

Yes costs have gone up everywhere as shown here:
http://www.sreb.org/page/1357/data_library_higher_ed_tuition__fees.html

The difference is that a family can reliably expect that their child can start a the junior college and get into the UMD or a state college for their final 2 years. That option is clearly not one in the State of Washington.

Posted Tue, Mar 5, 5:56 a.m. Inappropriate

I am proud that I was educated in the State of Washington. I had to join the service before I completed High School due to an unforeseen situation. I was a marginal student maintaining a "c" average, just passing through. After the 10th grade I joined the USN. In order to better myself I was told I needed a G.E.D. certificate. After taking the battery of test I was told I passed and that my Wash. education had given me an education equivalent to that of an A.A. Degree. It constantly amazed me as to the lack of skills possessed by my Calif. educated shipmates! I am sorry to hear that the "dumbing down of our children has hit my home state! Personally I blame immigration and politicians for this. Looks like we are on track to becoming one of the dumbest country's in the world...oh well, we had our hey-day. Guess it's over.

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