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State funding changes hitting some colleges hard

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Several of Indiana’s public colleges and universities are criticizing the state’s new incentive-based funding formula for higher education, saying it could derail their efforts to get back some of the $150 million the state pulled back last year in a budget-cutting move.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education has created a $123 million incentive fund that’s aimed at rewarding some of the state’s seven public colleges and universities based on how well each meets certain college-completion goals.

In starting that fund, the panel first removed 5 percent of each college’s state allocation. The funding then went through a complicated formula before being reallocated.

Ball State University is poised to get the smallest slice of the incentive funds — $1.7 million, or 1.4 percent of the total. The school had requested an increase of 6.5 percent in state funding, but the commission’s formula recommends a reduction of 2.9 percent.

Ball State President Jo Ann Gora told The Indianapolis Star that she has “grave concerns” about the commission’s recommendations and has vowed to pressure lawmakers to restore the school’s funding.

“There is abundant evidence that Ball State has shown significant and meritorious progress on goals important to the state,” Gora said in a statement. “Yet the recommended application of the formula penalizes our progress.”

Teresa Lubbers, state commissioner for higher education, disputed Gora’s charge and said she has worked hard to keep the process fair for all schools.

“There should really be no big surprises here. And even if you lost with the formula, we did not penalize you. You just did not get any extra money,” Lubbers told the Star.

Under the commission’s proposal, five of the seven colleges would see their overall state funding stay flat or be cut in 2012 and 2013. Legislators will make a decision on those budgets over the next few months.

Incentive funding was directed to campuses that showed improvement in the number of degrees produced overall, Lubbers said. But also included in the formula were on-time graduation rates, degrees earned by low-income students, total number of credits earned by students and credit for institutions that attract academic research dollars.

During the past year, most colleges have had to absorb the state cutbacks by laying off employees, consolidating departments and promoting early retirements. State Sen. Luke Kenley, chairman of the State Budget Committee, warns that universities should not expect things to get any better. He said the commission is a “good go-between” for the schools’ funding needs and the General Assembly.

Some colleges are taking issue with the way the commission measured their graduation rates, saying the process unfairly penalizes long-term success.

According to the most recent federal statistics, Ball State’s four-year graduation rate of 35 percent in 2007 is third-best in the state, behind IU and Purdue but better than Indiana State and the University of Southern Indiana — both of which received bigger shares of incentive funding.

Purdue University has requested a 7 percent increase in state funding, but the commission recommends a decrease of 0.3 percent. School Treasurer Al Diaz said Purdue also takes issue with the commission’s reliance on four-year degree completion rates as a benchmark, noting that some of Purdue’s most prestigious programs, such as pharmacy, can take up to five to six years to complete.

The biggest budget request came from Ivy Tech, which has set enrollment records the past two years. It proposed a 43 percent increase in funding so it could boost faculty numbers and add classroom space. The commission recommended a 6.2 percent funding increase.

“They are trying to maintain a flat-line budget, and we understand that,” said Ivy Tech President Tom Snyder. “But we are a victim of our own success. We cannot accommodate very many more students with the space we have.”


Posted 12/27/2010




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