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Opinion

Higher ed board offers intriguing idea

The following commentary, which does not necessarily reflect the views of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board, appeared Sunday in The Vancouver Columbian.

The state Higher Education Coordinating Board deserves multiple cheers for being as innovative as it gets in trying to keep Washington’s public colleges and universities of high quality while grappling with ongoing funding concerns.

The board, whose role is to cast a vision for higher ed in Washington, is concerned not only with access and affordability in the state’s schools, but effectiveness, too.

To that end, the board is considering whether the state should fund higher education based on degree completion rather than enrollment. …

Don’t worry (or get excited) that this would decrease state funding for colleges and universities. It could actually raise the number of dollars given schools, HEC Board Executive Director James Sulton told us in April. That’s because the amount of money granted for degree completion would be higher than the amount now given for enrollment.

So why do it? We’re not sure we are sold on the idea just yet, but we are intrigued by the conversation. Requiring degree completion in order for a college or university to get its money could bring about needed changes. Requiring students to more deliberately work toward their degrees, rather than taking a plethora of unconnected coursework, is one possibility. …

The way the public views higher education spending could also improve. Funding based on degrees feels better to some than paying for so-called career students who take advantage of the state’s generosity. The state still bears more than half of the total cost of instruction for college students.

The change might put pressure on the K-16 system to ensure that college-bound students come to a university fully prepared, reducing the amount of money spent on remedial education.

Colleges might also stick more closely to their allotted enrollment numbers. That isn’t one of the HEC Board’s goals … but it should be. Overenrollment causes decreased quality, and that is more unfair to students than limited access….

 

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