Pennsylvania plan would tie new college funding to performance targets

Rob Wonderling, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education.
Rob Wonderling, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education.
Posted: November 16, 2012

Pennsylvania's colleges would need to meet performance-based targets to win new state funding under a recommendation by Gov. Corbett's commission on higher education.

The proposal calls for "performance scorecards" that would take into account measures such as controlling tuition costs, opening access to low-income students and other underserved groups, and tailoring programs to meet workforce needs.

Among other measures recommended for consideration are closing achievement gaps, on-time graduation rates, and contributions to the state's economic development.

It was one of 19 major recommendations from the Governor's Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education released Wednesday afternoon, following six months of public meetings and study. The commission also called for the consolidation or elimination of duplicative programs or institutions and more cooperation among community colleges, four-year state schools, and private colleges and universities.

The 31-member commission - formed to deal with the funding crunch for higher education and the need to keep the state economically competitive - unanimously approved the recommendations. That is significant considering that the presidents of Pennsylvania State, Temple, and Lincoln Universities, Dickinson College, and the University of Pennsylvania, and the chancellor of the 14 state-run schools were among the members.

"We have, for the first time in recent memory, all of the higher-education sectors agreeing to implement this framework - and not only agree to this framework but agree to work together in partnership with the governor and General Assembly," said commission chair Rob Wonderling, chief executive of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Several business leaders, including Michael George, president of QVC, also served.

Corbett praised the commission's work, but his Department of Education declined to comment on possible implementation. Some proposals cannot happen without legislative action or a designated structure or office to oversee them or carry them out.

"The governor will review the recommendations in detail," education spokesman Tim Eller said.

Funding has remained a thorny issue. The commission report points out that higher education funding in Pennsylvania has declined 20 percent in nominal dollars since 2008-09.

While continuing to provide colleges with $1.67 billion in base funding equivalent to the current year's allocation, the state should create a performance fund of $256 million to be awarded to schools that meet targets, the commission said. The targets would be developed jointly by the Education Department and the colleges and would be periodically tweaked.

Private and public schools that currently receive funding either through the Education Department or the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency would be eligible to participate.

John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said the concept was nothing new to the 14 state-supported universities.

The State System for a decade has internally rewarded universities based on performance targets, he said. That performance funding has helped to improve graduation and retention rates for black and Latino students, he said.

"We're all about it," he said.

Don Francis, president of the state's Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and a commission member, also supported the plan.

"We are not in the least bit afraid that we be required to show we have met state objectives to receive state funds," he said.

The commission also recommends that a "working group" look at consolidating programs or institutions. It cites a drop in enrollment, competition for funding, and duplication of services as reasons.

It also proposes a state-supported bond issue for capital projects at all kinds of colleges.

And the commission recognized the rich resources of major research universities.

"We feel very, very strongly that those institutions should organize in a consortium," Wonderling said, "leverage each other's assets, and provide the governor with an innovation agenda for the commonwealth."

There are 402 public and private credential-granting institutions in Pennsylvania.

Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or

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