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FAYETTEVILLE -- Six out of 10 state universities have been recommended to receive a financial boost because of gains posted in their productivity index, a funding methodology championed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson as a way to prioritize student success and program completion.

But 14 out of 22 two-year colleges with declines in their productivity index would see less funds than they would otherwise, based on annual recommendations approved Friday by the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Overall, state funding to public colleges and universities would be $563.4 million in the next fiscal year -- the 12-month period beginning July 2019 -- based on the productivity index, used for the first time last year. Out of that total, about $7.4 million is considered a "productivity recommendation," according to board documents.

The $563.4 million recommendation "results in a total request for new general revenue funds of $861,551," states a document presented at the board's meeting, which was held at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus.

The funding recommendations still require approval from state legislators and Hutchinson.

Last year, schools could only gain funding boosts because of the index, which includes several factors but is partly based on the number of credentials earned by students.

The latest recommendations now allow for schools to see their recommended funding reduced if they have a decline in their productivity index.

Funding losses have been capped at 1 percent for the upcoming fiscal year, the 12-month period that begins July 2019.

The index each year is calculated using three years' worth of data.

Universities seeing index-based funding gains include UA, which would receive $3.3 million in productivity-based funding under the recommendation.

UA in Fayetteville -- the state's largest school by enrollment -- is set to receive the biggest boost by dollar amount. Its total recommended funding level is $122,015,998. Enrollment at UA was 27,558 in the fall 2017 semester.

Southern Arkansas University, which is in Magnolia, is set to receive a funding boost of about $1.8 million. Its total recommended funding level is about $17.5 million.

"SAU has been fortunate to experience increased enrollment in our undergraduate and graduate student populations over the past five years," Trey Berry, the university's president, said in a statement. "We have had an increase in freshman and overall student retention during that same period. This has translated into a significant increase in the number of students receiving degrees at SAU."

SAU has about 4,700 students. In 2011, it had about 3,400.

Berry went on to describe programs aimed at helping students succeed, including "team study" and advising efforts.

"State funding earned from these efforts will only continue to support our current and future students," Berry said.

Among four-year universities, only the University of Arkansas at Monticello would see the maximum percentage reduction from otherwise recommended funding levels, losing $159,460 under the recommendations.

Twelve two-year colleges would have funding reductions at the maximum 1 percent. Among those is one of the state's largest two-year colleges by enrollment, the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College, which is seeing a reduction from otherwise recommended funding levels of about $151,000.

Funding boosts for two-year colleges range from $64,112 to $921,406, with eight schools seeing productivity-related funding increases.

The $563.4 million total does not include additional funding recommendations for what are described as "non-formula entities," a category that includes components of campuses generally without student enrollment.

Lawmakers and Hutchinson this year approved about $9.4 million in extra funding for higher education to implement what's been called the productivity-based funding formula.

Nick Fuller, deputy director of the state Department of Higher Education, told the Democrat-Gazette on Friday that the $9.4 million figure was determined by calculations involving the productivity model.

"This was the first time new money's been added to higher ed in a number of years," Fuller said, adding that now the goal is "taking that and running with it."

This partly involves redistributing about $6.6 million in "one time Incentive funding," as described in board documents. This amount, awarded in fiscal 2019, combined with the approximately $860,000 requested, is described as constituting a 1.34 percent increase in otherwise recommended funding, according to board documents.

Like a year ago, this combined amount -- the $7.4 million "productivity recommendation" -- is tied to index calculations. The state Department of Higher Education found a productivity index increase of 1.34 percent when considering all public colleges and universities.

"As a whole, we're giving more degrees. We're transferring from the two-year to four-year [schools] at a better rate," Fuller said, describing two of the more than 10 factors used in the productivity index. "We're producing more educated students."

Metro on 07/28/2018

Print Headline: College funding increase advised

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