“Skin in the game:” New College braces for merit based cuts

As the cost of higher education rises across the country, lawmakers are turning to scorecards to measure the value of degrees to students and the state. This spring, Florida legislators will decide if the Sunshine State will adopt a scorecard to measure the performance of public universities and colleges. New College, which is projected to score in the bottom three if the current criteria are adopted, could face a funding cut of about $170,000.

The Florida Board of Governors (BOG), a 17-member group that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, began distributing performance-based funding in 2013. During this first round of funding, New College earned one out a possible six points and received $434,783.

Eight of the 10 criteria included in the new scorecard are applied to every member of the state university system. One additional criterion is chosen by the BOG for each institution and another is chosen by the Board of Trustees of each institution.

Board of Governors Chancellor Marshall Criser has said that state universities and colleges must have “skin in the game” for performance to improve. The scorecard would measure 10 criteria ranging from graduation rates to the average cost per student for the state. The schools scoring the three lowest scores will be penalized with funding cuts.

The size of these cuts has yet to be officially determined but the current versions of the legislation propose a one percent, non-recurring base cut.

The funding cuts would impact expenditures such as salaries and equipment costs. However, New College would keep the $434,783 in performance-based funding distributed by the BOG in 2013. University of Florida is projected to receive about $11 million in performance funding while Florida State University is expected to receive about $8 million dollars in extra funds.

In a report sent out to faculty, President Donal O’Shea said that, despite the cut, New College would still experience a net gain.

In an email, Vice President for Finance and Administration John Martin said that cuts to maintenance projects could help alleviate the strain on the school’s budget.

“Deferring maintenance work is certainly an option, but that can only be done for so long. At some point, building systems (roof, AC, plumbing, electrical etc.) fail and repairs must be made,” Martin said.

Provost Steve Miles said that the administration is working hard to ensure that funding cuts do not affect the academic experience of students.

“Our academic program is our primary concern,” Miles said. “If we do sustain cuts we will find ways to make these cuts that have a minimal impact on student experience.”

Scorecards have been a hot topic of debate recently. In his 2014 State of the State address, Governor Rick Scott made it clear that the cost of higher education would be at the top of his agenda.

“We firmly believe in accountability,” Miles said. “However, a one-size-fits-all metric does not holistically measure our school’s performance.”

The scorecard measures the performance of institutions on 10 factors including the cost to the university for each undergraduate degree. With the lowest student-to-faculty ratio in Florida, New College is expected to underperform on this metric. A degree from New College cost the school $74,640 per undergraduate during the 2012-2013 academic year.

“We will always be an outlier in this category, and necessarily so,” Miles said.

Miles is concerned that the scorecard does not recognize the distinct mission of New College and will unduly penalize schools with unique missions.

“There is an admirable diversity in the state university system,” Miles said. “We are fundamentally different than other members of the state university system.”

New College is also projected to score poorly on the metric that measures the percent of bachelor’s graduates employed or continuing their education one year after graduation. In the 2012-2013 academic year, only 44 percent of New College graduates were either employed or continuing their education one year after graduation.

Retention rates are also expected to negatively impact New College’s performance on the scorecard. In the 2012-2013 academic year, 81 percent of previously enrolled students came back for a second year.

With President Obama and the Department of Education introducing a national college scorecard in 2013, colleges and universities around the country must acclimate to performance metrics.

“Performance funding is here to stay,” Miles said. “What everyone is wrestling with is how do we measure performance.”

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