College Performance Funding

Steve Urquhart
Senator Steve Urquhart

With the legislative session fast approaching, I wanted to update where I currently stand regarding the Senate side of higher education appropriations. More accurately, I should say that I will report where I have been moved to by the many, many discussions I have enjoyed regarding reform, graduation pathways, and performance funding. Thanks to all who have worked to guide me and this process. I have learned a great deal. And—please note—I continue to learn a great deal. This process has been extremely iterative, and it will continue to be so. We will walk out of the legislative session with a product and direction that all can be proud of. Please help dig in and get us to that point!

Without getting too deep in the weeds of higher education, Utah policymakers can set funding parameters that can positively focus the efforts of those in higher education to achieve better outcomes. Policymakers should focus on the quality of our graduate-level research and our overall graduation rates.

Our current focus primarily concerns growth. In a rapidly-growing state like Utah, growth is funding flypaper. Once we touch it, we don’t go anywhere else. By focusing on growth, we accomplish growth, but our research and our overall excellence are not where they should be.

A system of higher education cannot be better than the quality of research in that system. Graduate research is the tide that lifts all boats—or can lift all boats. I suggest that funding start with a dedicated percentage of total new funding each year going to graduate research. Performance should be measured in at least two ways: (1) the degree that R1 institutions share research opportunities with our other non-R1 research institutions (i.e., this could be a simple matter of the other 6 institutions grading the two R1 institutions) and (2) the amount of outside money leveraged by our increased investment.

College Performance FundingAdditional appropriations should point the institutions to improved quality by rewarding (1) resident graduations, (2) moving first-time resident freshman through 30 credit hours their first year, including a degree-related math and declaring a major, and (3) moving those resident students through 60 credit hours in two years. We know how students who complete degrees behave. They take full course loads, and they declare majors early. We currently take too much time and too much money from too many students who do not complete degrees. We harm many of those students by letting them wander, instead of actively guiding them. Our students will benefit from institutional incentives to actively guide them through college to completion.

I propose 30 credit hours in a year, instead of 2 semesters (likewise, 60 credit hours in 2 years, not 4 semesters), in order to (1) reflect the reality that many of our students must also hold down jobs and (2) to perhaps increase summer campus utilization and increase flexible course offerings for students.

Note that I do not put a time limit on the graduation metric. Let’s get students started on the right path. Beyond that, let’s graduate everyone who started—whether some manage to complete in 3 years or others come back after 50 years.

The graduation metric should include a split reward when a student timely starts at Snow College, Salt Lake Community College and possibly our USU regional campuses (making it through the 30- and 60-credit hour metrics) and, then, completes a bachelor’s degree at another USHE institution. The intent of the split reward would be to streamline student transitions between our institutions.

I suggest that each metric be weighted for first-generation college students and populations that traditionally struggle to complete.

I suggest we also consider a metric that weighs institutional efficiency, possibly resident degrees per resident full-time equivalent (FTE) students.

The degree-related math requirement could be satisfied by a college credit previously awarded (i.e., AP, concurrent enrollment 1030, 1040, or 1050). This should provide incentive for our colleges to more actively shape incoming freshman, by actively encouraging 4 years of high school math, including the completion of a college math course.

I met last week with President Wight to discuss a performance-funding plan that he, President Pershing, and President Wyatt crafted. I like many elements of that plan. The two plans are not competing. Again, this is an iterative process, where many ideas and much discussion will lead us to the right place.

This post originally appeared on and is republished here with permission.

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