TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida universities may win additional state funding if more of their undergraduates can earn their degrees in four years.
That was the proposal discussed Tuesday by the Board of Governors' Budget and Finance Committee, which held a workshop on performance standards at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
Nothing is settled but a majority of the committee members expressed interest in changing the current six-year graduation rate measure to a four-year metric.
“There's no question that doing four years is better for the students,” said Ned Lautenbach, chairman of the BOG's budget and finance panel. “If we can get more of these kids out of here in four years, it's going to be less expensive and they get jobs faster. It all works in the right direction.”
Syd Kitson, another committee member, said it is important to create “a mindset” that most undergraduates should be looking to finish their degrees in four years.
“That's the expectation going in,” Kitson said. “If we don't have that as our metric, I don't see how that mindset can be reinforced.”
The graduation rate was one of five performance-metric adjustments discussed by the BOG committee on Tuesday.
Lautenbach and Tom Kuntz, chairman of the BOG, emphasized that the performance measurement discussion will continue and it may be some time before a final decision is made, with the possibility that no changes will be made.
Lautenbach said since initiating the performance-funding model in 2014, the BOG has reviewed and discussed changes in the system every fall in a workshop.
“One of the things we must be cognizant about, though, is too many drastic changes at once would change the focus of the model and would impact the universities' focus and the game plan for improving the metrics we have adopted,” Lautenbach said. “So we can't change it a lot every year.”
Other performance measures discussed included adding a textbook cost to a standard that measures the “cost to the student,” basically tuition offset by scholarships or other aid, of earning a degree.
The committee also debated holding all of the universities to a standard that measures students who graduate without excess credit hours. Currently, the University of Florida, Florida State University and New College of Florida do not use the excess-hours metric.
The committee discussed adjustments to a performance measurement linked to the number of students at each school who have federal Pell grants, which is financial aid available to students from low-income families.
The standards are important to the universities because some $245 million in state performance funding was included in this year's state budget. Top-performing schools get more money, while three schools at the bottom receive no additional state funding.
The performance standard debate will be influenced by the 2018 Legislature, which is also likely to consider legislation adjusting the metrics. Lawmakers approved a bill in the spring that would have created a four-year graduation standard, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott. A new bill (SB 4) has been filed that would require a four-year graduation rate measure.
The upcoming debate about a four-year graduation measure will focus on its impact on the individual schools.
In 2016, the four-year graduation rate averaged 45 percent across the system, ranging from 18 percent at Florida A&M University to 67 percent at UF, according to the BOG.
Only four schools --- the University of South Florida, New College, UF and FSU --- now exceed the BOG's long-range goal of having at least a 50 percent four-year graduation rate.
But a change to a four-year measure would not necessarily adversely impact schools that fall short of the 50 percent goal.
Under the current six-year measure, with a goal of 70 percent, only five of the 11 schools seeking performance money earned points. Similarly, some schools could still earn points under a new four-year measure, even if they fall short of the 50 percent benchmark.