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UW System performance funding

Bascom Hall at UW-Madison

A state legislative panel has approved a plan to divvy up about $26 million to University of Wisconsin System campuses based on metrics for student access, progress toward completion, “workforce contributions” and operating efficiencies.

The latest Republican state budget included the performance-based funding plan, championed by Gov. Scott Walker. It gave the funding to the UW System to distribute to its campuses based on a plan the System was required to craft, subject to approval by the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

The committee gave that approval Wednesday; the UW System Board of Regents had endorsed the plan in December.

Proponents of the plan say it would offer an incentive to UW institutions to better serve students and focus on results. The panel’s co-chairman, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the plan mirrors an approach used in 37 other states and will clarify the state’s expectations for its universities.

Metrics proposed for “workforce contributions” include the number of graduates in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields; in health-related fields; and those that are Pell grant-eligible. Other metrics include research and public-service expenditures.

“The state will have articulated goals for what we need from the UW System,” Nygren said.

Skeptics said they fear the performance-based funding creates a precedent that will comprise larger shares of state funding for the UW System in future budgets. They also say similar plans adopted in other states have not improved graduation rates and other measures, but instead led to unintended consequences, such as harming education for at-risk students.

“I don’t see the supports that are going to be necessary for under-represented students,” said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

The $26.25 million allotment was part of the 2017-19 state budget, which was enacted in September and extends through June 2019. It accounts for about 2 percent of overall state funding for the System, according to its spokeswoman, Stephanie Marquis.

The plan creates four metrics to gauge progress toward each of four general goals laid out in the budget — student access, student progress, workforce contributions and operational efficiencies — for a total of 16 metrics.

In addition to the workforce contributions goal, proposed metrics for the other three goals include:

  • Access:
  • Numbers of Wisconsin high school graduates, and Pell grant-eligible, under-represented or transfer students, enrolled as undergraduates.
  • Progress:
  • Undergraduates who achieved 30 credit hours and 90 credit hours, respectively, and undergraduate degrees awarded and post-baccalaureate degrees awarded.
  • Efficiency:
  • Core expense ratio, average number of credit hours required for an undergraduate degree, average student debt at baccalaureate graduation and degrees awarded per 100 full-time employees.

Each UW institution was permitted to determine its own weighting for the 16 metrics, provided that each metric got at least 1 percent and the weights add up to 25 percent for each of the four goals.

Nick Fleisher, a UW-Milwaukee professor who leads the Wisconsin chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said performance-based funding “was added to the budget for political reasons, not educational ones.” Fleisher said it “creates another layer of bureaucratic regulation and reporting for educators, taking up valuable time and resources.”

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Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.