Basis for higher ed funds could change

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to get legislation designed to study whether funding for the state’s 15 community colleges and eight pubic universities should be based on their productivity.
Barbour, who can sign the legislation into law or veto it, had advocated in his budget proposal a new funding mechanism for community colleges and universities “based upon productivity goals and accomplishments rather than enrollment.”
The bill passed the House Wednesday by a 120-1 margin. It had passed the Senate earlier. The bill was held on a motion to reconsider in the House, meaning that it still could be blocked from going to the governor.
Based on the margin of Wednesday’s vote, however, that is not likely.
The bill calls for the Education Achievement Council to study the issue and make a recommendation to the 2013 Legislature. The Education Achievement Council was created to look at ways to improve the graduation rates for universities and colleges.
Eric Clark, director of the state Board for Community and Junior Colleges, said the legislation reflects a national trend toward using productivity, such as graduation rates, in considering funding for colleges.
One problem with that model, he said, comes from having so many students enroll in community college with no intention of graduating from that institution. They could be taking some classes before transferring to a senior college.
While not opposing the use of productivity in a funding formula, Clark said enrollment must remain a factor, especially on the community college level.
For instance, Hinds Community College has an enrollment of 13,000 in part because of its location in the most populous county in the state.
On the other hand, Southwest Mississippi Community College, located in a sparsely populated area, has an enrollment of less than 3,000.
Clark said any funding formula must factor in enrollment; otherwise, the schools could not function.
Plus, Clark said, any new funding formula should be considered with the understanding that the community colleges already are underfunded.
In 2006, the Legislature passed a proposal to fund community colleges at the mid-point between regional universities and kindergarten through 12th grade education.
But, Clark said, that mandate has not been met. “Before we get into tweaking the funding formula, we ought to live up the commitment that was made,” he said.
Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, chairman of House Universities and Colleges Committee, passed the bill out of his committee and on the floor, but said he had reservations about stressing productivity when the schools were not receiving adequate funding.
But he said he is willing to study the issue.
Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said he hopes any study of the funding formula for universities and colleges “looks at all factors.”
Tollison pointed out that officials with the University of Mississippi, which is located in his district, have long maintained that the current funding formula is weighted toward the smaller regional schools and hurts Ole Miss.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

No more ‘junior college’
- The House on Wednesday passed and sent to the governor a proposal to take the phrase “junior college” out of the name for the state board that oversees the two-year schools. It would be the state Community College Board.
At one time all of the schools were referred to as junior colleges. But all have changed their name to community colleges with the exception of Jones County Junior College. Eric Clark, director of the state Board for Community and Junior Colleges, said Jones supports changing the name of the state board.