Ideas on how to improve the student experience of college and increase graduation rates were in Utah lawmaker’s minds as they recently met for the 2015 general session.
The Utah State Senate unanimously approved SB232, which would make funding for Utah System of Higher Education institutions based more on the institutions’ performance rather than enrollment. The bill will allot $8 million of new funds that will be split among the institutions that meet their goals in improving efficiency.
Money will be distributed based on the amount of degrees awarded, services provided for students, how applicable the degrees are in the workforce and graduate research.
“The point [of SB232] is to improve student experience,” said Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, who sponsored the bill. “My concern is that right now, college is too much about the professors’ experience rather than what the students get out of their education. And right now, graduation rates are unacceptable.”
For Dixie State University, SB232 will push faculty to focus more on what they can provide for students instead of trying to solely increase admissions, said Frank Lojko, DSU vice president of student services.
“[SB232] is going to be beneficial for DSU because it gives us a target to reach for,” Lojko said. “Everyone will be responsible for meeting the goals.”
Lojko said DSU has already been focused on how to increase performance before SB232 was passed.
“Hopefully we already will be meeting the required metrics,” Lojko said. “The tough question from here will be how much do we continue to move the needle and raise the standards.”
DSU faculty has been trying to ensure student success by increasing mentoring and tutoring services on campus, alerts for students with low grades, incentive for students to maintain at least 15 credits each semester, opportunities for students to get jobs and internships, and other student services on campus, Lojko said.
“Before, money was given based only on the amount of warm bodies and growth at the colleges,” Urquhart said. “But cancer is a growth. We want healthy growth for our institutions.”
Urquhart said this bill will also encourage high schools to offer more college credit classes, so incoming freshmen at the institutions will be able to skip more general education classes and decide on a major sooner.
“Time and money are the enemies [of graduation rates],” Urquhart said. “[This bill] will give more money to the institutions that are able to graduate students sooner with applicable degrees and do it for cheaper.”
Institutions will be expected to improve annually, Urquhart said. Each institution will be judged on a pass or fail basis based on how the institutions’ performance compared with the previous year.
Lojko said that success of the institution will also be the responsibility of the students.
“Students need to support their fellow student and not be afraid to ask for help,” Lojko said. “We have so many services available for students on campus that will help them in the long run if they just seek them out. [SB232] will be a reward to what students are achieving too.”
This is not the first time money has been awarded to institutions based on performance. SB232 is the result of a history of performance funding for institutions and requests to make the funds part of the annual budget.
Gov. Gary Herbert allotted a one-time $1 million in 2013 to institutions, attempting to have two-thirds of Utah’s working population with either a technical certificate or a college degree by the year 2020. And last year, the Legislature approved another $1.5 million for performance funding.
Since then, the Utah System of Higher Education has asked to make the funds ongoing and to increase them to $5 million. The Legislature surpassed their requests by $3 million with SB232.