School of Education News

Tandberg, Hillman defend performance funding research

December 10, 2013

Professors David Tandberg and Nicholas Hillman, the authors of a recent WISCAPE policy brief that calls into question the effectiveness of state performance funding for higher education aimed at increasing associate or baccalaureate degree completions, have published a response to harsh criticism of their study from supporters of the practice in Inside Higher Ed.

Criticism of Tandberg and Hillman’s work came from Professor Nancy Shulock, executive director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at California State University at Sacramento, and Martha Snyder, a senior associate at HCM Strategists, in a Dec. 5 Inside Higher Ed opinion piece headlined, “Don’t Dismiss Performance Funding.” Shulock and Snyder say that while they “agree that performance-based funding is not the only mechanism for driving change . . . it is disheartening to see a flawed piece of research mischaracterize the work on finance reform and potentially set back one important effort, among many, to improve student success in postsecondary education.”

Tandberg and Hillman explain their study design in their response to this critique. They note, “We chose the quasi-experimental design called ‘differences-in-differences,’ where we compared performance-funding states with non-performance funding states (one difference) in the years before and after the policy intervention (the other difference).  The difference in these differences told us much more about the policy’s impact than could traditional regression analysis or descriptive statistics.”

Tandberg and Hillman also discuss the importance of introducing empirical evidence into the debate over performance funding:

“Designing and implementing performance funding is a costly endeavor. It is costly in terms of the political capital expended by state law makers; the time devoted by lawmakers, state agency staff, and institutional leaders; and in the amount of money devoted to these programs. Therefore, inserting rigorous empirical analysis to the discussion and debate is important and worthwhile.”

The policy brief by Tandberg and Hillman -- “State Performance Funding for Higher Education: Silver Bullet or Red Herring?" -- is available here.

David Tandberg is an assistant professor of higher education at Florida State University, and Nicholas Hillman is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at UW-Madison. Both are affiliates of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE).

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