Performance-Based Funding: It’s About Getting Students In and Out the Door

For programs I administered back in my faculty days (not so long ago), I had to respond to increasing pressure to measure and report on student success. The buzzword then was assessment (i.e., identifying which specific learning outcomes were actually being achieved), and the accreditation agencies were the ones primarily applying the pressure.

Since then, the source of the pressure has shifted to legislators and other stakeholders involved in allocating funding for higher education. The key buzzword now is performance, as in “performance-based funding,” a concept which is supplanting “assessment-based learning” in public debates about the so-called crisis in higher education. In this context, the word performance connotes more of an institution-wide responsibility for success. As a result, the targets of scrutiny on college campuses have broadened significantly to now include the administrative as well as academic sides of the house.

This evolution in terms of who is responsible for student success has accelerated, in large part because of federal government initiatives and other mandates for ensuring student retention and fostering on-time graduations. In many states, policies for overtly tying funding to retention and graduation rates are underway, if not already in place.  

What this means for administrative offices, particularly in enrollment management (admissions, financial aid, registrar), is a heightened expectation for responsiveness to students and prospective students. Addressing that expectation requires, among other things, getting new students matriculated as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Once they are enrolled, it also requires providing an accurate and appropriately paced roadmap to degree completion.  

With competition for students heating up, responsiveness – at a level which will ensure degree completion at your institution — calls for increased speed, accuracy and efficiency in terms of administrative processing and decision-making at every stage in a student’s academic career. Poor performance at the front end – the pre-enrollment stage – can mean losing students, often to formerly non-competing local or regional options. Poor performance in the post-matriculation stages can lead to dropouts, drift-offs and outright transfers to other schools.

Given that funding, when it does come, may not deliver additional administrative resources, the demand often must be met with existing staff resources. More than ever, staff can’t do it alone, no matter how dedicated or how much overtime is logged. Staff needs tools – tools that automate many of the time-intensive, manual elements of administrative processing:  capturing, filing, retrieving, and routing documents. Reducing the reliance on paper offloads the operational burden of these critical components to automated systems. The entire process of administering student entrance can be dramatically enhanced, be it admissions application processing, financial aid processing and verification, student advising, course registration, graduation petition processing, etc.

Perhaps the most illustrative example of the connection between funding and performance comes in the area of transfer credit evaluation. In a recent post, I referenced the partnership between Parchment, which offers electronic transcript delivery services, and Hyland, with its ECM (enterprise content management) offerings. As I described there, the ability to quickly ingest transcripts and course data – whether arriving electronically or originating in paper – is key making timely decisions for degree audit purposes. Slowdowns in evaluating transfer credits can lead to losing students at the pre-enrollment stage and, in post-matriculation stages, can cause degree-threatening, money-wasting mistakes such as students unnecessarily repeating similar coursework.

Neither of those scenarios in any way helps institutions get students in the door or keep them advancing steadily and appropriately toward degree completion. If performance indicators for your institution include goals and rates for matriculation, retention and graduation – as they increasingly will – the time for process acceleration is now.

Tom von Gunden

Tom von Gunden directs Hyland’s market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education. Tom holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and spent more than a dozen years in higher education, serving as a tenured university professor, program director and accreditation specialist. His deep understanding of best practices in deploying ECM (enterprise content management) capabilities comes not only from his direct involvement in system implementations in colleges and universities, but also from his prior work as chief editor of Web and print publications focused on ECM and data storage technologies.

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