Tech may benefit from THEC funding formula

Tennessee’s higher education funding formula is undergoing several alterations for the 2011-2012 budget cycle, some of which could increase funding at Tech-if the University is able to raise and sustain retention and graduation rates, according to these recent Tennessee Higher Education Commission changes. The previous funding formula focused on input-based funding: the more students enrolled at the start of a term, the more money a university was likely to receive. However, now that the formula is shifting towards retaining students and completing degrees, some schools could actually lose funding due to low retention and graduation rates.

“Tennessee Tech certainly will not be a school that loses any funding through this new funding formula because of our high retention rate,” President Bob Bell said. “There is actually an opportunity for Tech to increase our funding since this formula is based on productivity and output instead of input.”

Tech has a 44 percent six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students. The average six-year graduation rate at four-year colleges is 46 percent.

It was announced at the beginning of the year that Tech would actively pursue an 8-10 percent increase in its retention rate. The University currently has a 72 percent freshman-to-sophomore retention rate.

“We have a Retention Roundtable, led by the Provost, which meets every few weeks and discusses retention and how to improve ours,” Bell said. “I also have a special assistant to the president, Brittni Simmons, whose main focus is also on retention. She too serves on the roundtable.”

These funding formula changes are associated with the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, which was passed on Jan. 21 by the Tennessee General Assembly.

The act was influenced by Complete College America-a nonprofit organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and dedicated to improving states’ graduation rates-and was developed with suggestions from Stan Jones, CCA president.

“The new state funding formula will focus on an incentive structure of outcomes instead of inputs,” Bell said. “Then the Tennessee Higher Education Committee will calibrate the formula so that they don’t expect Tech to have the same focus as other schools, like Vanderbilt or Austin Peay.”

One of Tech’s main focuses would be the attainment of bachelor’s degrees for first-time, traditional students. But a school like Austin Peay-which is situated closely to Fort Campbell, Ky.-would have a substantial focus on degrees completed by those enrolled in the military.

Bell has been appointed to the Statewide Master Planning Committee, which is developing and reviewing the new funding formula.

He expects it to take a few years before the formula will officially coordinate with every university’s individual mission and goals.