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BG24 Newscast
September 21, 2023

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BG24 Newscast
September 21, 2023

Funding formula not in University’s favor

Ever since the state funding model changed for higher education, University officials have shown concern for how it will affect the budget in future years.

The new funding distribution model hasn’t worked in the University’s favor, said Rodney Rogers, provost and associate vice president of Academic Affairs.

“The formula is weighted toward more of those schools that are producing a lot of degrees more quickly,” Rogers said. “We don’t have as broad an array of graduate programs that are being made available for working professions.”

By that, Rogers means that universities with one-year graduate programs focusing on a working profession will benefit more from the formula. The University, on the other hand, has primarily research-based graduate programs that take two years.

The model previously allocated money to public universities based on number of students enrolled in courses, but as of July 2013, it has changed to award institutions for students graduated and courses completed.

Fifty percent of funding is now distributed based on degrees completed, a bump from 20 percent. The other 50 percent is based on courses completed.

The purpose of this change is to address a growing concern in Ohio higher education. Ohio currently ranks 38 among the states, with 26 percent of adults holding a bachelor’s degree, compared with a national average of 31 percent, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. This gap totals billions of dollars in lost economic activity.

Gov. John Kasich has tasked all Ohio public universities with making graduation a top priority, a task he reiterated on Feb. 24 during his State of the State speech.

“They’re focused on helping students graduate, not just competing against each other to sign up as many as possible,” Kasich said during his speech in Medina, Ohio.

He first unveiled this funding formula in 2012, and convened a higher education funding commission composed of all public university presidents, who proposed ways to implement the formula, said Jeff Robinson, director of communications for the Ohio Board of Regents.

Additionally, all public universities must submit a “Complete College Report” as part of the Ohio Board of Regents’ “Complete College Ohio” initiative, Robinson said. That report is due in June and will outline universities’ plans to increase degrees.

“This is really something Ohio was doing that was really putting us ahead of the country,” Robinson said. “That would be a way to increase the number of people with degrees in our state.”

The formula is just in the beginning stage of implementation, Robinson said, but schools will receive a certain amount of money for each student they graduate.

Throughout the year, University officials have reiterated that state funding has declined by 30 percent since 2009. This year, say administrators, the University budget saw a $2.5 million shortfall, and as much as a $10 million shortfall is projected in coming years due to decreases in the State Share of Instruction, which is the formula used to distribute state money.

This is a recurring problem for similarly-sized public institutions around the state.

“It’s always a concern, definitely,” said Barbara Wharton, associate provost of institutional research at Ohio University. “I think when it was first decreasing it came as a surprise … the big fear is that something will happen fast.”

For most state schools, state subsidies hover around 20-30 percent of the university budget, while the rest is tuition and fees. This is a flip-flop from the 1960s, when 60-70 percent of the budget was from state subsidies.

“State funding hasn’t kept up with needs,” said Todd Diacon, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost at Kent State University. “It’s challenging times for higher education in the United States in general.”

To combat these budget shortfalls, all Ohio public universities are shifting focus and planning initiatives that could conceivably boost graduation numbers, and, hence, state money allocation.

The BG News compared the University to commonly benchmarked institutions: Miami University, Ohio University, Kent State University and University of Toledo.

Of these, Miami University leads the way for 2012, the latest year the numbers are available, in both six-year graduation rate [80 percent] and the number of those graduated [2,900]. These numbers are according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency that collects information related to higher education.

Comparably, the University had a 58 percent six-year graduation rate in 2012, and graduated 2,063.

Miami is strategic about who is accepted into the institution, said Caroline Haynes, associate provost at Miami.

The university’s officials have worked to increase the pool of applicants to 25,000 so they have a wider selection, she said.

“You really need to be thoughtful about who comes so there’s a good match,” Haynes said. “We try to select students whose interest we offer here.”

Some of Miami’s efforts to this end include a range of analytical tools; degree planning tools plot students’ paths to graduation and early alert warning systems notify students about performance issues.

Miami also has the goal of having an 85 percent six-year graduation rate.

“It’s one thing to maintain,” Haynes said. “It’s another to improve.”

The University has a 70 percent retention rate, a number Rogers said he’d like to see rise to 74 percent next fall. Retention measures the percent of students who return between freshmen and sophomore year.

Ultimately, the long-term goal is 80 percent, he said.

To get there, the University is already making use of linked courses, in which freshmen share a number of classes with the same people, the Learning Commons and improved advising.

Other schools around the state have similar initiatives.

Kent’s main campus had a 52 percent graduation rate.

Much of Kent’s efforts, said Diacon, are to engage freshmen early. For instance, Kent has “living learning communities,” where freshmen can reside in the same residence hall as where their learning community is.

This creates a “robust first-year experience,” Diacon said, as it creates a small community at a large university. He estimated that this leads to a five percent increase in graduation rates each year. Sixty-seven percent of freshmen are in these communities, Diacon said.

Diacon himself teaches a first-year experience course that attempts to “de-mystify the university structure.”

Kent has also begun to use big data to track student performance. Predictive analytics can allow advisers to alert students who are not performing well in their major courses.

These efforts have seen an increase in graduation rates since 2006, when it was 47 percent.

OU has a 63 percent graduation rate.

At OU, much of the effort to increase class completion, and, by extension, graduating numbers, comes by the efforts of the individual colleges, Wharton said.

“We have a lot of small programs that are kind of unique,” Wharton said.

Many of the efforts are focused on guiding undecided majors to a desirable career path, Wharton said.

“We have a lot of efforts to retain students,” Wharton said. “I don’t think OU is the only one trying that, but we’re doing well at it.”

The SSI may be about degrees awarded, but “at the end of the day, it is about student success,” Rogers said.

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