In 2014, Central State University made national headlines by achieving a political goal more than 120 years in the making; it was given federal land grant university status, making the school eligible for new funding and productivity in the areas of agricultural research and community outreach.
But a year prior to this historic achievement, Ohio legislature approved the adoption of a performance-based funding model for its public colleges and universities, creating a prescription for better endowed, larger institutions to maintain or grow investment through public appropriations, while smaller institutions were left with the goal of realigning programs and strategy to meet new metrics of performance.
We talked recently with CSU President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, who helped to orchestrate the historic 1890 designation for the university and who shared thoughts on the role of legislative lobbying and identifying areas of opportunity to contend with the new funding model that is taking root in public systems throughout the country.
EDUCATION DIVE: So if there are positive or negative aspects about this kind of funding formula, what are those and what are things to be considered?
CYNTHIA JACKSON-HAMMOND: Performance-based funding seems to be sweeping the colleges throughout the United States, and it's based on the public’s outcry over the value of a college education. Governors have said we need to be responsive to people we serve, and Ohio was one of the first states to decide on performance-based funding; and for us that’s about 48-52% of our total budget.
The three measures used for Ohio are course completion, retention, and college completion. Based on these standards, I don’t think you’ll find any institution that would say that these metrics aren’t plausible because that’s our job. But the budget part is skewed, because if we aren’t all playing at the same level with the same type of students, the assessment cannot measure or work effectively.
For many 1890 universities, we’re dealing with a population of students who haven’t come from a highly motivated or resourced support system. We spend a lot of time dealing with the psychosocial elements of going to college with first-generation students from high schools which may not be at the top levels, or students who come with great economic need. So tying these things to time towards degree completion, it becomes a bit complicated for our kinds of schools.
Do you find that your efforts to lobby legislation and officials are effective in explaining those differences?
JACKSON-HAMMOND: I think that there is awareness. But, legislators have the economy that they have to deal with, and so the question becomes do they understand the value added in these schools in trying to ameliorate the issues associated with these student types, and how it we help to drive the economy. If we are put into the same category as high research institutions, and there’s no recognition of that value added for schools which do an extraordinary job of educating this percentage of the citizenry, then there has to be a realization that it takes a few more resources to make sure these students can be successful; and develop an understanding how that helps cities and states grow.
This is the norm for minority students who may have to “stop out” to work or take care of a family. When their day-to-day living becomes an obstacle towards completion, it’s up to us to explain that phenomenon to officials and to help them understand that, while it’s not the norm for larger institutions and the kinds of students they recruit, it is the norm for us and there is a value behind that.
Do you have any concern about the new federal administration regarding deregulation and what that could mean for performance-based metrics?
JACKSON-HAMMOND: I think there’s not a lot coming from the president-elect about the college experience, or how to promote the citizenry through higher education. Pell funding is really big for 1890’s and the students we serve which is about 73 percent of my students. What are they going to potentially take from Pell grant to give to another source like deportation efforts, we don’t know. Because we serve the underserved of all groups, there is a concern about students, American minorities, and international students - about what may impact their interests in coming to our schools. There are many uncertainties, and we are on pause waiting to see what the next steps will be. For the universities to thrive, we have to have certainties and predictability.
Are there any metrics with which you are comfortable and would like to see more weight given to funding considerations?
JACKSON-HAMMOND: The one thing that I’m always working with legislators about is affordability. Pell Grant doesn’t cover everything, so how do we make college more affordable without reducing quality? We still have to pay people and provide competitive opportunities. So we work to get our legislators to give more support to campuses offering opportunities to the most underserved populations. We take those who may have been marginalized somewhere in the educational system, and help them to become productive citizens… That process cost; so if our matrix is based on things that are more difficult for schools with this mission, then who fills in the gaps? College affordability is an issue, but states will have the responsibility to fill in the gaps to provide the best opportunities for all students.