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California's move toward performance funding for its community colleges could work without harming colleges that enroll large numbers of underserved student groups, according to a new report published Thursday by the Century Foundation, but only if the formula adequately takes into account the socioeconomic profile of students at individual colleges (as well as metrics such as graduation rates and degree production).

“If the main goal of the higher education system is to increase productivity, with particular attention to increasing student achievement among vulnerable or disadvantaged populations, funding formulas should be designed so that institutions compete against their own past performance rather than against other institutions or sectors,” said the report's co-authors, Tatiana Melguizo, associate professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education and researcher at the Pullias Center, and Keith Witham, deputy director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute.

The report looks at four possible approaches to performance funding in California, with varying levels of state support tied to performance metrics and to measures of equity, such as money based on numbers of disadvantaged students colleges enroll.

California's top Democrats last week agreed to a final version of the proposed funding formula. It would tie 60 percent of the state's funding for 113 community colleges to enrollment, 20 percent to student success metrics and 20 percent to equity measures.