Will Michigan's universities look like Indiana's?

Doubling the number of college degrees and certifications. Cutting costs. Tracking job placement rates. Those are the latest proposals for Indiana’s public universities.

Why does that matter to Michigan? Because those goals are tied to formula funding – the same type of funding now being proposed in Michigan.

Indiana bases part of its funding for public universities on performance-based goals, a carrot-and-stick approach that rewards universities for improvements in areas such as graduation and retention rates. Last week, after four years of fairly modest steps, the state’s Commission on Higher Education proposed some startlingly ambitious goals.

The state wants to double the number of degrees and certifications granted at public schools by 2025, from 60,000 to 120,000. To reach that goal, an estimated 60 percent of Hoosiers would have some kind of degree or certification. Four-year institutions are expected to double the average on-time graduation rate, and two-year schools are expected to increase grad rates by six-fold.

Setting  goals is a lot easier than achieving them. An Indiana University official expressed concern that by focusing only on improvement in graduation rates, for example, the state could end up penalizing schools that already have good rates and thus have less room to improve.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said the same thing recently about Michigan’s proposed performance-based funding formula. According to the Gongwer News Service in Lansing, Coleman told the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee that the metrics “put an emphasis on improvement to the exclusion of achievement … We feel strongly that the metrics must reward achievement as well as improvement.”

Whether Coleman and other public university presidents have more influence on Michigan’s formula funding remains to be seen, but it seems likely that future funding is going to look a lot more like the Indiana of today than the Michigan of yesterday.

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David Waymire
Mon, 03/19/2012 - 6:22pm
And it won't matter a whit if they don't invest in their schools. And I see no reason to believe, based on the track record, that Indiana will invest in reaching these goals.