Changes in Funding for Texas Higher Education

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, led by commissioner Raymund A. Paredes, issued its recommendation for formula funding [in pdf format] on June 3, 2010. Paredes feels that giving schools funding based on the number of students who complete a course (rather than the number who are enrolled on the 12th class day) will give schools incentive to help students succeed.

Here are the problems:

(1) Most graduates of Texas high schools are not ready for college. According to the Coordinating Board’s report, ACT’s latest statistics suggests that only 22 percent of Texas high school graduates are college ready. Granted, the new funding plan allows some funds (at least 5%) for “at risk” students. They define an “at risk” student is defined as “a student who is a recipient of Pell grants, a GED graduate, first entered college at age 20 or older, started as a part-time student (less than 12 hours), or earned an SAT or ACT score below the  national average.” It seems unlikely that a 5% adjustment will help with those students who need remedial coursework, tutors, etc. Let’s face it, if the public schools couldn’t get it done in their 12+ years with these students, I don’t see much chance we’ll be able to help them catch up their first semester in college because you’re offering some schools a 5% bonus for taking the students other schools don’t want. Many of these students have serious deficiencies and dropping 5% in the tip jar isn’t going to fix that.

(2) You get what you pay for. If you pay schools to pass students, many will pass students. Some schools and individual faculty members will keep their standards where they should be. Other schools will lower their standards and pass pretty much anyone.

Why reward the faculty with the lowest academic and ethical standards? The state’s businesses are upset that “social promotion” has made a high school diploma less valuable. Do we want to do the same for college degrees?

(3) Students need incentives. Anyone who has ever looked around a college classroom knows why some students are failing–they’re not trying. Many aren’t even showing up. Paredes, bless his little optimistic little heart, really seems to believe that if faculty members will just encourage students that they will be motivated and transformed. Students’ attitudes and bad tendencies have been developed over decades. Most 18-year-olds are not going to suddenly be motivated because a middle-aged professor in their freshman government course talked to them.  Please! Let me fail some of these students. Lowering our expectations for them is counter-productive and insulting.

(4) Finally, the Coordinating Board needs to think about who they’re talking to. Do they think faculty members don’t care about student success? Don’t they realize that we spend hours trying to find ways to make our courses better? I don’t mind some suggestions coming out of Washington or Austin. However, at some point the educational bureaucracy needs to understand that not all wisdom come from their offices.

Would the Coordinating Board really like to see faculty spend more time with students? If so, how about cutting back on the assessment and other paperwork the state is increasingly piling on schools? If the Commissioner wants teacher to spend more time listening to students he should consider demanding less time spent answering to his bureaucracy.

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