Risks and rewards of ‘efficient’ education

Risks and rewards of ‘efficient’ education

February 27
23:33 2013

If you go to college in Texas, you might have to start hitting the books a little harder.

The Higher Education Committee of the Texas House of Representatives is doing its best to promote a new initiative for education reform in the state. The first item on their agenda?  Outcomes-based funding.

The basic idea behind the bill is that 10 to 25 percent of state funds for public universities would be tied to the performance of students in these institutions, using metrics like graduation rates and how many years it takes students to earn their degrees to gauge success.

The proposal, also backed by Gov. Rick Perry, is nothing new. Similar strategies are under consideration in about 25 states.

Supporters of the reform argue that measures like these would motivate colleges to educate students more efficiently, as well as place a new emphasis on graduating quickly and entering the workforce as soon as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but we shouldn’t forget the factors behind why some of us don’t graduate on time.

Public enemy number one for low-income scholars is loan debt. The combined impact of rapidly increasing tuition and a treacherous job outlook pushes high school graduates to avoid going into the red for their education at all costs.

We’ve all heard the campfire horror stories about liberal arts graduates who can’t find a job outside of a coffee shop, and we don’t want to be that guy. As a result, many of us are working one or two jobs to get through college debt-free.

But high tuition makes working your way through college a full-time job in itself, and this means many students have to reduce the number of credit hours they take in a given semester. This pushes back graduation rates, and may even impact performance.

Another negative side effect of outcomes-based funding might be on the university culture. If administrators at UNT and other schools are motivated to get students in and out with their degrees as fast as possible to ensure the cash keeps coming in, what measures will they take to get there?

For one, we might see degree plans that are both increasingly simplified and restricted.

This isn’t completely hypothetical: the University of Texas is already considering preventing students from pursuing a double major if they can’t complete both simultaneously and graduate within four years.

Colleges should be held responsible for the successful education of their students. It’s what we pay for, and it’s what the state pays for.

But when we’re weighing the options for increasing the efficiency of higher education, we hope Texas remembers that college isn’t just about getting the degree and getting out the door.

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