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Some community college funding now tied to graduation, retention rates

Photo: Michael Barera

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s 23 community colleges all will see an increase in funding in the upcoming year. And for the second year, some will get a slight bump in state dollars based on how well they’re retaining students and getting them to graduation. 

Fiscal 2019-2020 will be the second year the Alabama Community College System’s “performance-based outcomes” model is used to distribute a portion of schools’ state dollars.

“…It’s kind of like a reward, in a way,” Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday. “It works in the reverse as well, so it may look like they got a bigger bump but someone else may have gotten a lesser amount.”

The formula looks at several metrics on a three-year average, including completions — the number of associate degrees and certificates awarded — and progression — the number of students attaining the 12, 24 and 36 credit-hour benchmarks. Factored into the formula is whether schools are serving special populations — minorities, low-income students and adults — and producing workforce-ready career tech graduates.

Rachel Adams, spokeswoman for ACCS, said it’s a “relative improvement” model. 

“In such a model, it’s not the raw numbers for the metrics that determine the winners,” Adams said. “It’s a comparison of the rates of change among all colleges that determine results.”

Look at the rest of the appropriations for each college here. 

The 10 colleges that saw performance-based bumps ranging from $464 to $66,372 were: Bevill, Bishop, Chattahoochee, Lawson, Northeast, Shelton, Southern Union, Trenholm, Wallace Hanceville and Wallace Selma.

The ACCS board on Wednesday approved a total of $320.6 million in operations and maintenance funds for the colleges, an increase from this year’s $301.3 million.

The performance-based outcome portion of funding is a small piece of schools’ overall allocations. 

Each college has 10% of its annual operation and maintenance budget placed at risk in the model, and can lose no more than 2% of that, Adams said. They also can’t gain more than 2 percent of the 10 percent.

In 2017, lawmakers created the committee to come up with an outcome-based funding model for two-year colleges instead of basing annual allocations on previous amounts given or basic enrollment numbers.

Blake McAnally, a ACCS board member from Decatur, chaired that advisory committee that came up with the funding formula.

“These colleges are not competing against each other, they’re competing against themselves,” McAnally said this week.

He said that one of the recommendations of the committee was an updated software system for reporting each school’s data.

“We had very much an apples and oranges situation with the software we had,” he said.

The performance-based outcome advisory committee will reconvene in 2020 to review the results of the model and offer any needed revisions for legislative consideration, Adams said.

Some leaders in Montgomery have said plans could be discussed next year for tying four-year universities’ graduation rates and other performance markers to some state funding.

Baker said so far, he’s pleased with how the funding model is working.

“I think a part of that is because we were given a period of time to move into it and prepare people for it so it hasn’t been disruptive is what I would say,” Baker said. “It’s forced some change but it’s all been for the sake of good progress, is how I see it.”

In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, nine of the 23 two-year colleges saw increases.

McAnally also said enrollment is a factor in the formula. 

“As the economy increases, our enrollment will decrease,” he said.

Community college enrollment has declined in recent years. From 93,720 in fall 2011 to 80,251 in fall 2018, according to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. 

Adams said that historically, lower unemployment has been associated with lower community college enrollment in Alabama and nationwide.

“However, it’s impossible to state definitely that low unemployment is what is driving a decline in enrollment,” Adams said. “There are many factors that can impact college enrollment, including a decline in the college-age population, which has been a trend in Alabama and across the nation for several years.”

Even with a downturn in enrollment, some of the community colleges have larger student bodies than several state universities. Calhoun Community College is the largest two-year school, with about 9,700 students in fall 2018.

The record $7.1 billion 2020 education budget had a $34.8M increase for community colleges and a 4% raise for K-12 and community college educators and staff.

Alabama’s public four-year universities will receive funding increases of between about 6 percent and more than 12 percent. 

‘Positive’ $7.1 billion education clears House, varies from Senate version

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