State approves new funding formula

Earlier last month, the Higher Education Funding Commission, appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, approved a new formula to determine funding for all colleges that links funding received from taxpayer money to improving students’ success as well as the number of degrees and certificates awarded.

The new formula focuses college funding on student retention, progression and graduation from college.  The numbers of credit hours and bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees would be the primary factors for determining the funding for larger universities, such as Tech and UGA.

This is a major change from the current system, in which funding is driven by enrollment figures and how many credits students take.  According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the current formula is focused on enrollment statistics, how many students attend each school and the number of credits these students take.

Overall, this new formula would not change the powers of the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia to set tuition and fees at each individual school.

This change in the funding formula will take place in the 2015 fiscal year, with colleges earning or losing money in the 2016 fiscal year based on their progress from the previous year.

This could have a positive effect on Tech as enrollment numbers in recent years have steadily increased while the number of degrees awarded has also increased, according to Georgia Tech Institutional Research and Planning. Enrollment at Tech has gone up from 19,413 students in Fall 2008 to 21,557 students in Fall 2012. The number of degrees awarded has gone up from 2,651 in 2008 to 2,949 in 2012. According to the latest statistic, this difference corresponds to rising graduation rates, where 37 percent of students who entered in fall of 2008 graduated in four years, 76 percent within five years and 79 percent within six years.

“We bring in the best and the brightest students so there’s no reason the [graduation] rate wouldn’t increase, and when you look at the good work of the undergraduate admissions office, our students continue to get better and better every year,” said Sandi Bramblett, Executive Director of Institutional Research and Planning.

Colleges can also receive extra funding if they succeed in helping students who are known to struggle most in school. This incentive money is linked mostly to adult learners, who are 25 or older, as well as low-income students, which would be measured by those receiving the federal Pell Grant. Other groups, such as first-generation college students, could be added later, according to the AJC.

A concern arising from the new plan is the effect it could have on the level of rigor and quality of education at Georgia colleges, with  State Senator Buddy Carter expressing concern that colleges may become “diploma mills.”

Concerns like that have been raised in states like Tennessee, where the funding formula for higher education was overhauled in 2010 so that enrollment no longer plays a role.  Their colleges must reach benchmarks in graduation, retention rates and other areas, and there have been reports of professors feeling pressured.

However, it appears that maintaining high levels of quality education will be a top priority.

“We are committed to stay on top of this as much as possible,” said University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “We do not want to lessen rigor.”