State Senate approves performance-based funding for colleges

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Rhode Island Senate wants to tie new state aid for public colleges to the schools' performance.

Thirty states allocate some funding to colleges based on metrics, such as the time it takes to graduate, transfer rates, the number of degrees awarded and the number of low-income and minority graduates, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Rhode Island's three public colleges receive funding based on the previous year's budget.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday to require the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to achieve specified goals to qualify for new state money beginning in 2017. The metrics would be developed this year.

It's an incentive for them to help students graduate on time and complete programs in high-demand fields, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said.

Paiva Weed said many employers with job openings can't find Rhode Islanders with the right skills, particularly in growth industries such as the medical and biotechnology fields and engineering. Closing the "skills gap" is a top Senate priority, she added.

"We wanted to encourage the colleges and universities to really focus on degrees that would in fact address the needs of the business community," she said.

She's concerned that many students aren't graduating in a timely manner. Just 3 percent of full-time CCRI students graduate with an associate's degree within two years, for example, Paiva Weed said.

If colleges don't meet the metrics, they still get the funding but it would have to be used to achieve the goals. Paiva Weed said she wanted a positive approach, unlike in many other states where funding is cut when the goals aren't met.

College officials and education union leaders are supporting the bill. Some CCRI students opposed it, out of concern that the metrics wouldn't take their unique circumstances into account.

The bill was changed to specify that the metrics would be consistent with each school's mission.

The bill also requires state education officials to develop a funding formula for higher education, with input from the colleges, by April 1, 2016.

It now goes to the House of Representatives. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he needs to review the proposal further and assess the costs and benefits. He praised Paiva Weed for taking on the issue.

Four other states are also currently transitioning to performance-based funding, the National Conference of State Legislatures said.

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