Money Matters: How to Fix Policies That Discourage Colleges From Focusing on Equitable Student Success
Today, higher education is funded based on “tradition,” with public resources mainly allocated to colleges based on the number of students enrolled, the number of credits they accumulate toward graduation, and the amount of time and money it takes to teach them. Yet we are not living in a traditional time.
America’s families, employers, and education and workforce development systems are still dealing with major disruptions and lasting changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as numbers begin to surge once again. Postsecondary institutions, like community colleges that serve learners and workers disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, need to be funded differently to meet the growing demands of their local communities and economies.
[Community colleges] need to be funded differently to meet the growing demands of their local communities and economies.
The latest episode of JFF’s new podcast, When Policy Meets Practice, delves into the impact COVID-19 has had on community colleges and how federal and state funding structures need to modernize to reward colleges that endeavor to meet the holistic needs of students, forge new community partnerships, and accelerate pathways to credential attainment and to in-demand careers. Host Paul Fain explores this issue with two community college presidents: Tonjua Williams of Florida’s St. Petersburg College and Randy VanWagoner of New York’s Mohawk Valley Community College, both of whom are members of JFF’s Policy Leadership Trust. At the end of the episode, JFF’s David Altstadt and Taylor Maag join Paul for a wrap-up conversation.
Tonjua kicks off the conversation by describing how Florida policymakers have sought assurances that training and education lead to employment. She notes that a bill (HB 1507) signed into law in June includes a “job guarantee” that requires school districts and state postsecondary institutions to refund the cost of tuition to students who do not find a job within six months of completing certain programs. She applauds the “pay for success” approach to holding institutions accountable but also emphasizes that funding models need to account for the fact that community colleges serve student populations with significant barriers to college and career success. Tonjua notes that a growing number of students need help finding and paying for food, housing, child care, and other basic necessities. She also emphasizes it is crucial for educators to partner with local workforce boards and employers to ensure that programs are aligned and designed to meet labor market needs.
Most state funding models are built on the inefficiencies of higher education, meaning that colleges are typically allocated funds based on how many credit hours students take. That discourages colleges from scaling up reforms.
When Randy talks with Paul, he lays out a fundamental problem with traditional funding models that discourages innovation. He notes that most state funding models are built on the inefficiencies of higher education, meaning that colleges are typically allocated funds based on how many credit hours students take. That discourages colleges from scaling up reforms to accelerate student attainment of credentials. Randy shared how the implementation of a guided pathways framework at Mohawk Valley has led students to graduate faster and to accumulate far fewer course credits. While that is a huge success, Randy notes that implementing pathways reforms, such as streamlining academic remediation for underprepared students, hurts the college’s bottom line because it leads to the loss of additional revenue generated by students taking more courses toward degree completion. Nonetheless, he says he’s undeterred because he knows this is the right thing to do for his students.
Policy Recommendations From Postsecondary Practitioners
Tonjua and Randy both call on state and federal policymakers to rethink funding models, specifically by moving away from traditional formulas based on student enrollment and seat time and instead rewarding student-centered approaches to credential attainment, skill development, and preparation for employment. They both acknowledge that while college accountability structures are key to student success, partnerships and alignment with workforce development and human services systems are also crucial to ensuring that students persist and complete their courses of study and achieve economic security and social mobility.
How to Listen to Episode 6 of When Policy Meets Practice
Tune in to the sixth episode of JFF’s When Policy Meets Practice podcast to hear Paul Fain talk with Tonjua Williams, Randy VanWagoner, and JFF’s David Altstadt and Taylor Maag about ways federal and state higher education funding models can change to better support innovation and student success. The episode is now available on your favorite podcast platforms using this shortcut.
You can find each episode starting at 5:00 a.m. every other Monday. Be on the lookout for Episode 7, which will be available starting September 13. It will feature a conversation in which Paul Fain and his guests examine how policies can ensure more equitable transfers from two-year to four-year colleges.