The South Dakota Board of Regents rounds out its Wednesday afternoon agenda with discussion of its proposed "performance funding model." In a way, the performance funding model is merit pay... not for individuals, but for entire campuses.
The short version: our six public universities will kick a total of $3 million into a "pool of recaptured dollars." The state will match that amount, making the pool for the pilot year of the program $6 million. The Regents will then divvy that money up among the campuses based on how many degrees they've churned out over three prior years (e.g.: SDBOR will calculate FY2013 performance funding from graduate numbers from FY2009, 2010, and 2011). The more advanced the degrees, and the more of those degrees in "premium" fields, the more points the campus gets in the funding formula.
What are the "premium" fields?
Premium fields represent key workforce development priorities for the State of South Dakota.... [A] graduate from a premium field &ndash such as engineering &ndash will be valued at an amount 3.00 times higher than an analogous graduate from a regular field (such as general studies).... Broadly, premium fields include accounting, computers and information technology, health professions, and STEM and STEM teaching areas [South Dakota Board of Regents, "SDBOR Performance Funding Model," Agenda Item 21, 2012.03.28-29, p. 6].
Ah, STEM. Science, technology, engineering, math. In other words, the Regents will consider campuses graduating more English, history, and art majors to be performing worse than those graduating lots of computer whizzes and physics teachers. In the eyes of the Regents, a biology teacher is worth three times as much as a special education teacher. A software engineer is three times more important than an economist. Humanities students, welcome to your official designation as second-class scholars.
The campuses compete in two groups: DSU vs. BHSU vs. NSU, and SDSU vs. USD vs. SDSMT. Here's how the universities would come out under this formula based on this year's budget:
|Institution||Contribution||n Points||%||Allocation||Gain||Relative Return|
Every campus comes out ahead on this deal, but some come out aheader than others. In the "masters" pool, DSU with all of its computerized graduates essentially gets a 148% match from the state. (My 2010 master's degree will help DSU pull in those bucks. You're welcome.) In the "doctoral" pool, SDSU gets a 117% match. The other schools get less than a dollar back on top of each dollar they place in the pool.
Now in general, rewarding performance seems reasonable. But we're going to be giving universities varying amounts of money based on what they did in three previous years. Might there not be a disconnect between performance in past years and needs in the current year? Suppose a campus is starting a new program to produce more graduates in "premium" areas. The fact that they didn't produce many "premium" graduates four years ago seems a paltry reason not to say, "Here's the money you need to serve your students now."
The performance funding model seems just one more effort by state government to turn everything it touches, including our public education system, into an affirmation of its free-market fundamentalism. Placing our campuses in competition with each other based on their production of graduates in specific fields seems counterproductive to providing all South Dakota students of all academic interests the opportunity for a quality public university education.