School of Education News

Commentary questioning new college funding formula in California notes Hillman's research

May 28, 2018

A commentary posted earlier this month in the San Diego Union Tribune that examines a revised higher education budget proposal from Gov. Jerry Brown utilizes research from UW-Madison’s Nicholas Hillman to question the governor’s plan.

The opinion piece from Randy Beach and Julie Bruno begins: “With the release of Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal, faculty in the California Community Colleges system are concerned. The broadest goals of Gov. Brown’s proposed changes to the funding formula are noble and supported by the faculty who work every day with students and witness firsthand their challenges. … ”

But, the authors note, “The governor’s proposal calls for 20 percent of a college’s funding to be based on a points system that takes into account completion of degrees and certificates, transfer and other progress milestones, but we know that funding based on student completion and progress does not work.”

Beach and Bruno explain: “In 2016, The Century Foundation published an article by Nicholas Hillman that investigated the use of performance-based funding across the United States and came to the conclusion that ‘while pay-for-performance is a compelling concept in theory, it has consistently failed to bear fruit in actual implementation, whether in the higher education context or in other public services.’ The governor’s revised proposal reduces the originally proposed proportion of the funding model that relies on performance metrics, but the fact remains the same: Performance-based funding is not effective to achieve our shared goals.”

Hillman is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and is an affiliate of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE)

More than two-thirds of states are either developing or using some sort of performance-based funding for public colleges and universities, with performance being tracked in areas such as graduation rates and degree production numbers. Hillman, who has studied these performance-based formulas extensively, argues that this way of distributing funding is rarely effective.

Beach teaches at Southwestern College and is an executive board member of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. Bruno is president, Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. To learn much more about this nuanced topic, check out their commentary here: “Why California’s new college funding formula is bad for state’s workforce.” 

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