What’s a guy gotta do?

**Editors note: I originally published this post on our Advanced Reporting class blog.**

Why don’t people care about tuition increases? Is it something we did? Is it something we said?

Because I’m always a little hurt when the things we’re writing about for higher education aren’t consistently on the most read list, and you never seem to hear Joy praising the analytics of the most popular “strategic financial planning and assumptions” article.

Tom told you higher education is the company in the company town. George Kennedy told you that MU is a $2 billion business and that MU’s weekly payroll is around $16 million. Hell, in Columbia, you can’t spit without hitting something funded directly (or indirectly) by higher education.

So tell me, what do we need to do get people’s attention? How do we convince people of the importance of every Board of Curators decision?

We write articles, we tweet, we blog, we make graphics, we share, we engage — I even wrote an opinion piece in December, after the announcement of the new president. At this point, I’m not sure what we haven’t tried.

But I think I know what makes the difference: I see the connection from curator to student in every decision the board makes.

For people to care, they need to see what I see. To do that I think we need to come up with something new — something very different — to get people’s attention.

But I just haven’t quite figured out what that is.

The Chronicle and how state funding is changing

This morning I spotted a very interesting read from the Chronicle of Higher Education about performance-based funding’s growing popularity among legislatures around the country.

The idea is that funding schools based on their performance in particular measures (think graduation rates, professional certificates awarded, credit hours completed, etc.) would reward the most efficient schools while squeezing the most out of every education-allocated state dollar during tough economic times.

Last fall, Missouri adopted performance measures and I covered them pretty thoroughly (and skeptically) in my reporting.

But the end of the Chronicle’s article hits on an important point that I’ve heard here in Missouri. When I spoke with UM System admin Nikki Krawitz last fall, she pointed out that the higher ed relationship goes both ways — while colleges and universities have to do more with less, the state bears plenty of responsibility to get those schools the resources they need.

Over the long term, that trend toward regulatory freedom will only increase, Mr. Reindl says, especially as the states’ shares of college budgets gets smaller. “Campuses,” he says, “are coming to lawmakers saying, If you are not going to give us as much money, should you really have the same amount of control?”

In December, UM Chancellors Leo Morton and Brady Deaton told the Board of Curators they’re under pressure from donors who feel they’re money is just supplementing state support. From my article about the December board meeting:

Deaton said several donors he has spoken with have said they will not continue to give to MU if state support keeps dwindling, specifically because they don’t want their money filling a funding gap created by the state.

Now, Missouri ranks 45 out of 50 in state funding per capita in higher education so it’s fair to say that the colleges and universities have been doing more with not just less, but nearly the least.

So without state support, what’s the future model of higher education for Missouri colleges, including the UM System? That’s, very literally, the multi-million dollar question.

The sorry state of state funding

Here’s what may be the most important excerpt from interim system president Steve Owen’s response to Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed cuts to Missouri higher education:

“It is fair to ask how long we can continue to do more with less. After a decade of reductions in state support and implementation of operational efficiencies, we are near the point where either the level of funding will have to increase or the scope and quality of services will have to decrease.”

As proposed, the fiscal year 2013 budget would cut $89 million from four-year Missouri colleges and universities, including $55 million in cuts to the UM System budget.

This graphic shows the frightening decline of state support over the last decade and couple this with record enrollments for every year shown in the graphic. A $55 million reduction in funding for the UM System, a 13.7 percent decrease from fiscal year 2012’s gross appropriations. (Graphic credit to Nicole Thompson)

At its December meeting, the Board of Curators discussed a preliminary proposal to raise tuition and course fees the rate of inflation (except at Missouri S&T), but that plan was contingent on a state budget with unchanged appropriations for the system.

When that proposal was discussed in December, the system was already preparing to cover a $78 million gap, and with an additional $55 million to make up it seems highly likely that tuition and course fees will have to go up even more.

The board will discuss and vote on tuition increases at their next meeting, Feb. 2-3 at UMKC.

I hope to have more information over the next two weeks and I’ll be there in person to cover the tuition discussion in Kansas City.

For the latest on the system’s budget gap and what it means for tuition, course fees, deferred maintenance and employee salaries and benefits, stay tuned here, keep an eye on my Twitter, @zach_murdock, and check out columbiamissourian.com.

Are we spending our time correctly?

Ibuprofen retailers across the Columbia metro area are breathing a sigh of relief after a convoluted performance funding proposal forced all involved to make a run on headache relief medication the past six weeks.

Credit to graphics gal Rachel Rice at the Columbia Missourian for putting together this visual.

But all is calm now, as it seems that the train that left the station weeks ago is well out of sight now — the performance measures faculty members hotly debated for several weeks made it through Wednesday’s general faculty meeting without a scratch.

Faculty seemed pretty apathetic to performance funding in way that had to be expected, I guess, after the bleak warning MU Budget Director Tim Rooney issued before the presentation of the performance measures.

Missourian columnist (and former executive editor) George Kennedy said it best when he said, “Tim didn’t hesistate to wipe the smiles off our faces.” Rooney briefly, matter-of-fact-ly explained we definitely won’t be getting any new funding next year — in fact, he said we could be facing a 5% decrease.

Krawitz went one step farther, claiming we shouldn’t expect new funding the year after, either — or the year after, or the year after, or the year after.

And since performance funding measures would only apply to new funding, Krawitz urged faculty not to fear if Mizzou isn’t adequately represented by the proposed measures because they’ll never get used without new funding.

I tried to encapsulate that in my most recent article about the model:

Laughter rattled through Chamber Auditorium in the MU Student Center as Nikki Krawitz, University of Missouri System vice president for finance and administration, answered one short but important question about the funding model.

The question: Does this make any difference whatsoever?

“The short answer?” Krawitz said as laughter subsided. “No.”

Not to discredit the importance of the discussion about performance funding measures — or the hard work Krawitz, her task force, COPHE and college administrators across the state have done — but if we really can’t expect new funding to be used with the performance measures, did we all just waste our time?

It’s a silly hypothetical question but, how much money could we have raised if every minute we had talked about performance funding over the last year was put into fundraising efforts? And though that question oversimplifies the issue, it gets to the heart of it — at what point could (should?) we have decided to ditch performance funding, knowing it would be moot with the funding crisis we’ve got now?

Could the UM System have prioritized differently after abandoning performance funding? Focused on more pertinent issues?

After following the model this fall and getting to sit down and talk with Krawitz about the ins-and-outs of the idea — including the grim funding outlook — it just seems to me like she had, and still has, plenty more viable and important things to work on for this university.

So why waste her time on an under-funded, disliked, already twice-failed performance funding idea?

See performance funding for yourself

With all the talk I’ve been doing about performance-based funding, I figured it was time to pony up and actually break it down for those who don’t have the (distinct) pleasure of having all this information circulating in their heads.

Here’s a basic breakdown of how the model might look if implemented the way it’s designed now.

Key word: might.

A lot of the details still have yet to be worked out and I think the graphic and story reflect that with a certain amount of ambiguity.

Faculty have the chance to discuss this issue further at this afternoon’s general faculty meeting before the model moves right along to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education for approval in December.

Credit to graphics gal Rachel Rice at the Columbia Missourian for putting together this visual.

Making a funding model visual

What is performance funding? What does it mean for the university? What does it mean for the quality of public higher education throughout the state? How many hundreds of questions could you come up with when you start to get down into the details of a performance funding model?

It’s complicated, OK. And for the record, performance can most accurately be summed up in the following (Hint: read aloud as quickly as possible):

“At the August (Higher Education) Summit, the Governor suggested a performance funding system under which any state appropriations above the previous year’s base level would be allocated to each university based upon that university’s performance on five measures. Four of the measures would be common to all COPHE institutions and one measure would be independently selected by each university.”

Duh. I mean, what did you think it would be?

Unfortunately, it seems that the members of MU’s Faculty Council may be in the same boat. At their meeting last week, council members grilled UM System VP Nikki Krawitz about details of the plan and had some harsh words for the model’s seemingly total disregard of several major facets of MU’s academic mission. (On that note, Krawitz admitted the model is tailored toward the Gov.’s goal of increasing folks with degrees, not the one land-grant, research institution in the state.)

My understanding was that Krawitz had presented the model to the council members with the intent of fielding suggestions, not defending the model against heavy criticism.

In the heat of it, Krawitz essentially said the train is leaving the station, and MU is on board whether we like it or not.

We have a choice: we can either make suggestions about measures that we can use, or we can talk about all the reasons we can’t use measures. But if we want funding, I’m telling you, you better come up with some measures.

After the fact it occurred to me that in the hour and a half Faculty Council meeting, council members had only provided a handful of suggestions and the frustration was palpable. Which got me thinking: if a group of the most informed, intelligent faculty members still had burning questions and concerns after an hour and a half — how will a full general faculty meeting (where all faculty are invited to voice their opinion) fare?

My hunch is that without more clarity, the meeting might go down much like the last council meeting. So it begs the question, instead of my sloppy, confusing narrative about the funding model is there a way we can visually walk people through how the model will work?

The idea is simply to make it simple. Definitions of terms. Context regarding how the performance model will not affect core funding, only additional allocations to public institutions. An equation to show what information the model considers and how it spits out a number based on a school’s performance in those categories.

It’s still a work in progress, but it’s an idea I’d like to see through before next Wednesday’s general faculty meeting. And the Missourian has an obligation to try to provide some clarity on such a complex issue, especially after hearing the questions and concerns raised at last week’s council meeting.