House rejects college outcomes bill

A plan that would more closely link the amount of money colleges and universities get from the state to their academic performance was soundly defeated Monday on the floor of the Louisiana House.

Senate Bill 117 was supposed to be a way for the Legislature to nudge Louisiana’s postsecondary schools toward more academic accountability. The idea was: Perform and get paid; under-perform and be punished.

The bill would have created a 21-member task force made up of various higher education stakeholders. Their mission would be to study the best way to revamp the state’s funding formula, the mechanism that determines how public colleges and universities are funded.

SB117 called for the task force to come up with an outcomes-based funding model.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, testified in committee he envisioned a two-part formula including an “expense” category for maintenance and utilities and an “outcomes” category for academic performance.

The “outcomes” category would make up a roughly 25 percent to 40 percent share of a school’s total state funding, Appel said, while the “expense” category — 60 percent to 75 percent — would stay the same, allowing schools to fund operations.

For instance, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond — a regional, four-year university that doesn’t offer an engineering degree — would be compared with schools throughout the South with similar characteristics, Appel said.

“The goal is that, over time, Southeastern should meet or exceed the average graduation and retention rates of those schools,” Appel has said.

As chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, Appel has acknowledged Louisiana doesn’t adequately fund higher education institutions, spending about $12,700 per students compared with the $14,000 Southern average.

But Appel and state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, the chairman of the House Education Committee, both argued the state’s more pressing issue is the “performance problem” among colleges and universities.

The outcomes-based funding model was supposed to be an extension of the 2010 LA GRAD Act, which has been called a disappointment.

The law ties 15 percent of college and university funding to several dozen performance criteria including graduation and retention rates. It also allows schools to raise tuition 10 percent each year provided they meet those academic targets.

Legislators have complained privately the GRAD Act does not go far enough.

Much of the criticism about the law stems from colleges and universities having the ability to negotiate their own performance goals with the state.

Earlier in the year, when Appel and Carter first started floating the idea of an outcomes-based bill, college administrators generally agreed that academic accountability is a good thing.

They also cautioned that some performance measures, like graduation rates which don’t take into account students who transfer to a school, part-time students or those who take longer than six years to graduate, are imperfect measures.

The outcomes-based bill lost on a 40-60 vote Monday.