Commission suggests changes to Pa. higher education
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A commission assembled by Gov. Tom Corbett to examine higher education in Pennsylvania issued a broad set of recommendations Wednesday intended to make post-secondary study more accessible and affordable.
The proposals include tying increases in state funding to success in meeting those goals and considering the consolidation of institutions and programs. All 31 commission members -- leaders in business and higher education -- supported each recommendation, said commission chairman Rob Wonderling, a former Republican state senator who is president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
"Historically, the various higher-ed sectors oftentimes were in competition or in conflict for the public outlay of dollars to support their individual institutions and sectors," Mr. Wonderling said. "For the first time in decades, each individual sector, as represented by this commission, is in agreement for a framework for accountability and funding."
The funding proposal calls for higher-education appropriations next year equal to those received this year. Starting the following year, beginning in July 2014, the report recommends the state establish an additional fund to be distributed based on performance. The recommended initial performance fund of $256 million, added to a base of $1.67 billion, would return appropriations for post-secondary education to the average funding level in the past decade, without adjustment for inflation.
Performance would be measured against scorecards developed for each sector of higher education and could include measurements of tuition growth, increase in access by underserved groups and responsiveness to workforce needs. By the fiscal year that begins in July 2016, the performance metrics should be established, the report says, and the state should aim to provide additional performance-based funding each year above a new baseline of $1.93 billion.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has considered performance in funding its 14 universities for the past decade, and chancellor John C. Cavanaugh, a member of the commission, said the practice has allowed the system to improve overall academic quality while increasing retention and graduation rates for African-American and Latino students.
"Over the 10-year period, it's been quite good at moving the system in the direction we want it to go," Mr. Cavanaugh said.
Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and a commission member, said in a statement that the development of a long-term performance funding model and a commitment to cost and tuition containment are two recommendations "that are likely to generate particular interest in the higher education community."
The report cites an overall decline in the growth rate of post-secondary enrollment in recommending that a new working group report on ways to change program delivery. Mr. Wonderling said the commission concluded that all sectors of higher education should be required to participate in analyses of program, institution and branch consolidation to be eligible for performance-based funding.
"We need to reset the map as it relates not only to the facilities of the higher education delivery system but also down to the curriculum," he said.
The Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education recommendations issued Wednesday include creating an online system where students and their parents could access information about higher education, training program and financial plans. They also encourage the growth of dual enrollment programs.
The recommendations call for reaching out to nontraditional students -- such as low-income, black and Latino adults, veterans and other adults over the age of 45 -- and including them in grant and financial aid programs. And it encourages post-secondary institutions to contain costs, noting that Pennsylvania "ranks below many states in affordability" because of lower-than-average levels of state funding per student and higher-than-average costs to deliver education in Pennsylvania.
Both Mr. Nordenberg and Penn State spokeswoman Jill Shockey said the findings highlight the role of research universities in efforts to educate students within the state who can compete globally.
"By one estimate, 60 percent of new jobs in Pennsylvania will require some form of post-secondary education by 2018; currently only 43 percent of Pennsylvanians hold such a degree," Ms. Shockey said in a statement. "The report takes the long view, recommending actions that will improve access and opportunity for generations of learners from all walks of life, including Pennsylvania's growing population of adult learners."
In a statement announcing the report, Mr. Corbett said the suggestions "focus on what is important to our students now -- accessibility and affordability" -- while planning "for the future by recommending programs that will prepare our students for careers here in Pennsylvania."
The governor received the recommendations Wednesday and will review them in detail, said Tim Eller, a spokesman for the Department of Education.
First Published November 15, 2012 12:00 am