CLARKSBURG — As soon as fiscal year 2019, higher education institutions could be funded based on number of students, number of credit hours and other relevant measures.
House Bill 2815, passed during the 2017 regular session, tasks the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to present options for funding models and recommend one by which the Legislature would appropriate state funds. Funding models will be presented on or before Jan. 1.
West Virginia is one of only 14 states that does not allocate state funds for higher education based on a funding model.
“What’s in place now for funding for the schools is — there isn’t a model,” Matt Turner said. Turner is the executive vice chancellor for administration at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
The commission will provide fact-based information, scenarios and multiple models based on other states and what can be done with West Virginia institutions.
Currently, the commission makes budget requests on behalf of the institutions, but it does not distribute funds to individual institutions appropriated to higher education by the Legislature.
Turner said he hopes the Legislature takes into consideration each institution’s mission, the communities in which they serve, the students they serve and the potential impact on students and families.
John Beckvold, Glenville State College’s vice president for business and finance indicated that a funding model and distribution of funds is a responsibility for the Legislature, not the commission.
“While (the HEPC) can lobby and make the case and provide information, it’s the Legislature and the governor that makes these decisions,” he said.
Beckvold questioned whether a model should be success-based and how that should be defined.
“Is it number of students enrolled? Is it number of students who graduated on time? Is it the number of people who graduate at all? Is it the salaries they get after?”
Even with a model, the pool of state funds is not increasing, he added.
“It’s a very difficult situation for the Legislature to try to satisfy needs that greatly exceed the resources,” he said.
With a decade of eroding state funding of higher education, winners and losers were chosen by the government, which is something the Legislature is trying to unwind, said Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. Not having a funding model allowed for flexibility, but it also allowed for politics.
“Let’s say for instance me being the finance chairman and I have a greater interest in something that’s in my district — or whatever it may be — it takes me out of the game. It makes it so that it’s a fairer method,” he said.
However, Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said he is concerned that politics will be a byproduct of implementing a performance-based funding model. For example, would an institution dumb down a program in order to maintain an appearance of success?
Although he said they will never come up with the perfect funding model, he said it would have to be based on the success of the institutions and determined by the commission. By reevaluating what the commission does and allowing it to be more of a visionary body, it can guide the institutions in a direction that creates better performance.
Turner, Prezioso and Blair all stated the need to look to other states and their funding models to find what could work well for West Virginia’s system of higher education. Pennsylvania has had a funding model since 1983, and since 2000 the State System of Higher Education adopted a performance-based funding model.
Spokesman Kenn Marshall said the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education receives an appropriation from the Legislature, about $445 million. The majority of that, 95 percent, is distributed based on a funding formula that is primarily enrollment-driven and depends on the number of lower and upper division courses and graduate courses.
The remainder, 5-6 percent, is distributed based on performance, he added.
Indicators measured and used to distribute the funds include four- and six-year graduation rates, minority enrollment rates, graduation rates, retention rates, student performance and fundraising.
This, he said, is not something the Legislature developed.
The model has been revised several times over the course of 17 years.
With universities ranging in size from under 1,000 to over 14,000 students, he said the state system takes into consideration how much is needed to “keep the lights on and the grass mowed.”
“Nobody’s ever completely satisfied with the formula because everytime it changes, there are what people will see as winners or losers,” he said. “Some schools under the revised formula may get more money, a greater share of the state appropriation, and others get less. That’s obviously going to happen anytime you change any of the factors.”
Even with a funding model, there is still only a limited amount of state funds available, and sometimes it is not enought to support the formula, he said.
Regardless, there has to be a way to fairly distribute those funds, he added.
“Otherwise, you have the individual universities fighting for dollars against each other basically,” he said.
Aside from providing budget stability and predictability, he indicated it allows for unity among the institutions as well.
Where 14 institutions would lobby separately for their own self-interest, the creation of the system and use of the formula brings the universities to lobby for a larger pot of funds.
“It’s a better way of trying to advocate. We all advoacate for the same thing rather than 14 separate entities lobbying or advocating for themselves,” Marshall said.
Turner said the Legislature recognizes the importance of higher education to the state’s economy in building the workforce and attracting new employers.
He said he thinks the Legislature wants to make the best use of limited funding, and he hopes the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission can help them do that.
“Our ultimate goal is we hope they reinvest in higher education,” Turner said.