Lawmakers propose tying higher education funding to performance

A bi-partisan committee of state legislators is recommending that state support for its public colleges and universities be tied to performance goals, such as affordability, graduation rates, and meeting the workforce needs of employers.

“Let’s get this done in the next couple of months,” Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield and co-chairman of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, said Thursday. “We need to tie something to a portion of the dollars we are giving them.”

But the idea is likely to face opposition from higher education officials, who collectively get $554 million–about a quarter of their total budget–from the state’s general fund.


Sen. John Kissel and Reps. Mary Mushinsky and Roberta Willis listen to a presentation on funding higher education

The state’s public colleges and universities currently have complete authority over their budgets. They got that during a state budget crisis in the early 1990s as a trade-off for funding cuts.

Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor for the state’s dozen community colleges, said she would not support linking state funding with performance benchmarks, unless there is more money on the table–an unlikely proposition given the massive budget deficit projected for next year.

“I am very concerned if this can be used effectively without increasing funds. To me, I see this as another reduction,” Cox said after the PRI Committee meeting.

Bernard Kavaler, spokesman for Connecticut State University, said officials plan to review the proposal and will then make a comment on the proposal.

Kavaler said CSU routinely supports providing incentives for students to earn degrees in workforce-shortage ares, such as special education. However, he would not say whether the current funding the state gives CSU should be tied to their ability to graduate students in certain degrees.

University of Connecticut spokesman, Michael Kirk, said officials plan to review the recommendations and plans to inform lawmakers of any concerns they may have.

About half the states in the country have report cards for universities tied to their levels of state spending, PRI staff told the committee. The amount of funding tied to meeting benchmarks ranges state-to-state, from 5 percent of state funding in numerous states to 100 percent in Ohio.

“We want to make sure our money is spent most efficiently as possible,” said Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford and co-chairwoman of the PRI Committee.