administrators

Essay challenging academic studies on states' performance funding formulas

A recent Inside Higher Ed article about the analysis of state performance funding formulas by Seton Hall University researchers Robert Kelchen and Luke Stedrak might unfairly lead readers to believe that such formulas are driving public colleges and universities to intentionally enroll more students from high-income families, displacing much less well-off students. It would be cause for concern if institutions were intentionally responding to performance-based funding policies by shifting their admissions policies in ways that make it harder for students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants to go to college.

Kelchen and Stedrak’s study raises this possibility, but even they acknowledge the data fall woefully short of supporting such a conclusion. These actions would, in fact, be contrary to the policy intent of more recent and thoughtfully designed outcomes-based funding models pursued in states such as Ohio and Tennessee. These formulas were adopted to signal to colleges and universities that increases in attainment that lead to a better-educated society necessarily come from doing a much better job of serving and graduating all students, especially students of color and students from low-income families.

Unfortunately, Kelchen’s study has significant limitations, as has been the case with previous studies of performance-based funding. Most notably, as acknowledged by Kelchen and Stedrak, these studies lump together a wide variety of approaches to performance-based funding, some adopted decades ago, which address a number of challenges not limited to the country’s dire need to increase educational attainment. Such a one-size-fits-all approach fails to give adequate attention to the fact that how funding policies are designed and implemented actually matters.

For example, the researchers’ assertion that institutions could possibly be changing admissions policies to enroll better-prepared, higher-income students does not account for differential effects among states that provide additional financial incentives in their formulas to ensure low-income and minority students’ needs are addressed vs. those states that do nothing in this area. All states are simply lumped together for purposes of the analysis.

In addition, the claim that a decrease in Pell dollars per full-time-equivalent student could possibly be caused by performance-based funding fails to account for changes over time in federal policy related to Pell Grants, different state (and institutional) tuition policies, other state policies adopted or enacted over time, changes in the economy and national and state economic well-being, and changes in student behavior and preferences. For example, Indiana public research and comprehensive universities have become more selective over time because of a policy change requiring four-year institutions to stop offering remedial and developmental education and associate degrees, instead sending these students to community colleges.

If any of these factors have affected states with newer, well-designed outcomes-based funding systems and other states with rudimentary performance-based funding or no such systems at all, as I believe they have, then there is strong potential for a research bias introduced by failing to account for key variables. For example, in states that are offering incentives for students to enroll in community colleges, such as Tennessee, the average value of Pell Grants at public bachelor’s-granting institutions would drop if more low-income, Pell-eligible students were to choose to go to lower-cost, or free, community colleges.

I agree with Kelchen and Stedrak that more evaluation and discussion are needed on all forms of higher education finance formulas to better understand their effects on institutional behavior and student outcomes. Clearly, there are states that had, and in some cases continue to have, funding models designed in a way that could create perverse incentives for institutions to raise admissions standards or to respond in other ways that run contrary to raising attainment for all students, and for students of color in particular. As the Seton Hall researchers point out, priority should be given to understanding the differential effects of various elements that go into the design and implementation of state funding models.

The HCM Strategists’ report referenced in the study was an attempt by us to inform state funding model design and implementation efforts. There needs to be a better understanding of which design elements matter for which students in which contexts -- as well as the implications of these evidence-based findings for policy design and what finance policy approaches result in the best institutional responses for students. There is clear evidence that performance funding can and does prompt institutions to improve student supports and incentives in ways that benefit students.

Analysis under way by Research for Action, an independent, Philadelphia-based research shop, will attempt to account for several of the existing methodological limitations correctly noted by Kelchen and Stedrak. This quantitative and qualitative analysis focuses on the three most robust and longest-tenured outcomes-based funding systems, in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

Factors examined by Research for Action will include the type of outcomes-based funding being implemented, specifics of each state’s formula as applied to both the two- and four-year sectors, the timing of full implementation, changes in state policies over time, differences in the percentages of funding allocated based on outcomes such as program and degree completion, and differences in overall state allocations to public higher education. And, for the first time, Research for Action will move beyond the limitations of analyses based primarily on federal IPEDS data by incorporating state longitudinal data, which give a more complete picture.

As states continue to implement various approaches to funding higher education, it is essential to understand the effects on institutional behavior and student outcomes. Doing so will require more careful analyses than those seen to date and a more detailed understanding of policy design and implementation factors that are likely to affect institutional responses. Broad-brush analyses such as Kelchen and Stedrak’s can help to inform the questions that need to be asked but should not be used to draw any meaningful conclusions about the most effective ways to ensure colleges and universities develop and maintain a laser focus on graduating more students with meaningful credentials that offer real hope for the future.

Martha Snyder is a director at HCM Strategists, a public policy advocacy and consulting firm.

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Faculty Group Criticizes AAUP Report on Title IX

A group of professors known as Faculty Against Rape has deep concerns about the American Association of University Professors’ recent draft report arguing that some interpretations and applications of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prevents sex-based discrimination in education, threaten academic freedom. “As it stands, we are troubled by much of the framing, content, unrepresentative nature of, and failures of accuracy within, the draft report,” reads an open letter from the group to the AAUP.

“The overall impression given by the report is that the Department of Education’s Office [for] Civil Rights is ‘overreaching’ in its mandated mission of providing guidance to universities and ‘abusing’ Title IX; this, despite the fact that there is broad underreporting of campus sexual assault by universities,” the letter says. “While we would ordinarily join with the AAUP in resisting the corporatization of institutions of higher learning, we are deeply concerned that the AAUP’s analysis of this issue as it pertains to Title IX, by pitting student concerns for campus safety against faculty interests, reinforces the symptoms instead of addresses the problem.”

Faculty Against Rape says it does support the report’s recommendation for more funding for programs and departments that “analyze how sex, gender, power and advantage operate,” but it requests that AAUP not release draft reports to the media before seeking broader input from its members and subject matter experts. It also includes a number of suggestions for improving the report, including by ceasing -- in the group’s view -- to conflate “the actions of the [civil rights office] with specific university actions in a few specific cases, while ironically, ignoring the much more frequent retaliation against students, staff and faculty as sexual assault survivors, allies and advocates.”

Faculty Against Rape plans on sending its letter to AAUP today. Risa Lieberwitz, a professor of law at Cornell University and chair of the AAUP report committee, said via email, "We welcome all comments on the AAUP draft report and will carefully consider those submitted by [Faculty Against Rape]. As the AAUP draft report explains, universities should effectively address and prevent problems of sexual harassment while fully protecting academic freedom and due process. We do not argue that speech can never create a hostile environment, nor that all speech is protected, only that matters of speech in the university always require attention to academic freedom. The report criticizes both the OCR and university administrations for failing to adequately protect academic freedom and due process. The report also offers recommendations for developing, through shared governance, fair and effective policies that pertain to sexual harassment."

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Adjunct Says She Lost Job After Gender Transition

A transgender adjunct professor of English is suing Saginaw Valley State University for sex discrimination for allegedly taking away her administrative position after she began presenting as a woman. According to the suit, filed this month in a Michigan federal court, Charin Davenport has taught at the university since 2007, when she was still presenting as a man. She took on a second, part-time job as coordinator of academic tutoring services in 2011 and was named assistant director of academic programs support in 2012, reporting to Ann Coburn-Collins, director of academic programs support.

Davenport received strong performance reviews, the suit says, until 2013, when she informed the university that she was undergoing a gender transition and intended to dress as a woman from then on. She asked her colleagues for support, but Coburn-Collins made negative comments and told Davenport that she must have had too much free time on her hands, according to the suit.

Coburn-Collins stopped talking to Davenport and two months later informed her that her administrative job was being eliminated for budgetary reasons, the complaint says. When Davenport tried to talk to her former supervisor about what had happened, Coburn-Collins allegedly called her a liar and threw an unspecified object at her, and said that Davenport disgusted her.

Davenport says she lost the job in retaliation for her transition, not budgetary reasons, as stated, and she is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and lost wages. Neither Coburn-Collins nor a Saginaw Valley State spokesperson immediately responded to requests for comment, but the university told The Daily Beast, “We are aware of the lawsuit and we are confident that we will prevail in court, as all the facts come out. SVSU does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. … We support all our students, faculty and staff, including those who are members of the LGBT community. We have a Pride Center on campus to serve those individuals and to contribute toward an inclusive campus environment.”

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$4.75M Settlement in Death of Cal Football Player

The University of California will pay $4.75 million to the family of a UC Berkeley football player who died after a strenuous training drill in 2014. As part of the settlement, the university will also review workout and conditioning plans, provide education on sickle cell trait to players and staff, and ban "high-risk physical activity" as punishment. Berkeley previously admitted negligence in the player's death.

Earlier this year, the University of Rhode Island settled a similar lawsuit with the family of a baseball player who died during a team workout in 2011.

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Veterans Rally on Hill as Congress Mulls GI Bill Trim

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and several other veterans' groups held a rally on Capitol Hill Thursday to protest a proposed cut to a benefit included in the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The veterans, who were joined by several Democratic members of Congress, were pushing back against a provision in a bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed last month. The bill included a 50 percent cut in the housing stipend for dependents of a military or veteran parent who had transferred the benefit to them. The U.S. Senate is considering a similar version of the bill.

"It is embarrassing that we have to come here and beg our elected officials not to steal from the pockets of our military, veterans and their families," said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff in a written statement. "As we stand in front of the U.S. Capitol, men and women are fighting in a prolonged war in Afghanistan and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, earning this very benefit. We are once again seeing the impact of a growing civilian-military divide in this country. It is national disgrace that some members of Congress are willing to use veterans' benefits as a piggy bank to pay for other programs."

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff speaks at a rally on Capitol Hill Thursday, April 14, protesting a cut to GI Bill benefits.

Nebraska to Require Student Loan Notification

Earlier this month Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts signed legislation to require the state's public institutions to provide students with detailed annual reports on their projected student loan debt, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Under the legislation, which is modeled on an Indiana law, colleges must tell students the total amount of federal loans received, estimates of monthly payments, the number of years they can expect to be in debt and how close they are to aggregate borrowing limits.

Lake Michigan College Suspends President

Lake Michigan College, a community college in Michigan, has suspended and may soon fire its new president, The South Bend Tribune reported. Board members have indicated that the new president, Jennifer Spielvogel, purchased a ceremonial medallion for her inauguration, renovated her office and made other purchases without authorization. Spielvogel's lawyer said she made those decisions with the assumption that they were within her rights as president.

Penn State survey finds most sexual assault victims tell friends, not campus officials

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Penn State survey finds many students don't report sexual assault to campus officials and law enforcement, turning to friends and family for help instead.

Cornell Continues to Receive Scrutiny Over Job Ad

Scholars, scholars everywhere and no professor to pick. Cornell University took heat last fall for posting an unusually vague job ad for a professor showing “outstanding promise” in “some area” of the humanities or social sciences, with special consideration of “members of underrepresented groups, those who have faced economic hardship, are first-generation college graduates, or work on topics related to these issues.” Critics took to Twitter, simultaneously making fun of the ad and wondering if it was a hoax (it wasn’t).

One applicant has now been told the search that applied to an exceptionally broad pool of scholars has yielded no hires. The university, meanwhile, says the search has, in fact, resulted in a hire.

“I’m writing to inform you that our search did not yield a successful candidate to match our specific research needs,” reads an email sent to one applicant Tuesday by the office of the dean at College of Arts and Sciences. “We received many qualified applicants from our pool and we surely passed by some talented individuals. We wish you well in your future endeavors.”

The applicant, who did not want to be identified in any way due to an ongoing job search, called the decision disappointing. “Who knows if they’ll run the search again, or even if they’ll break it up into a series of smaller, more specific searches …. I think elite institutions are in a very privileged position: in a shrinking market, many seem to be able to run failed searches without any repercussions.”

Karen Kelsky, an academic job consultant who runs the blog The Professor Is In, still jokes about the original job listing and didn’t express surprise that the search may have been unsuccessful. “It was a preposterous ad that said something like ‘We want a scholar in any of 25 disciplines.’ There is simply no way to create a short list when the criteria are removed entirely from any kind of clear departmental, disciplinary or programmatic context. It’s comparing apples, oranges, sliced ham and … garden shears.”

Cornell, meanwhile, says the search did lead to a hire. John J. Carberry, spokesman, said in a brief statement Wednesday evening that he couldn’t confirm the rejected applicant’s statement because “this ad did result in a successful hire for the college.” No additional details were immediately available.

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Pro-Union Seattle U Adjuncts Plan to Fast Thursday

Adjuncts at Seattle University seeking recognition of their Service Employees International Union-affiliated union are planning to fast on Thursday. The adjuncts held a union election nearly two years ago, but the university has filed a series of appeals saying its religious affiliation puts it outside the National Labor Relations Board's jurisdiction. The votes remain uncounted.

"We voted nearly two years ago and the [university] administration continues to deny us," Ben Stork, a film studies instructor, said in a statement. "We cannot eat well unless we have a seat at the table." The university did not provide immediate comment on the protest. Seattle is one of many religious institutions that have opposed adjunct unions on religious grounds in recent years.

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