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  Meaningful, Measurable Goals

National CrossTalk Fall 1999
News Editorial Other Voices Interview
 

Meaningful, Measurable Goals

Measuring Up 2000 has generated spirited discussions

By Kala M. Stroup
Kala M. Stroup is Missouri commissioner of higher education.

ONE WEEK AFTER Measuring Up 2000 was released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, more than 400 Missouri higher education and government leaders gathered at the annual Governor’s Conference on Higher Education. This forum, “Advancing Opportunity and Achievement,” engaged college presidents, administrators, board members, faculty, legislators and Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center, in discussions about Missouri’s results on the report card.

The headline, “Education leaders focus on state’s report card,” and extensive media coverage demonstrated that this report stimulated public debate. When Governor-elect Bob Holden addressed the conference, he indicated that a C average is not acceptable for Missouri. Holden challenged the colleges and universities to work together to ensure that higher education is within the reach of all Missouri families.

The report continued to generate spirited discussions throughout the day. The afternoon sessions focused on partnerships and programs designed to achieve better results; GEAR UP programs; K–16 initiatives; Missouri Learner’s Network; and the report of the statewide Missouri Commission on the Affordability of Higher Education. Participants were encouraged to identify policies, practices, performance indicators, and a public accountability system for ensuring that Missouri students succeed in college.

A panel of leaders representing state, institutional and national perspectives closed the conference by responding to the national report card’s assessment of how well Missouri has performed the fundamental tasks of keeping higher education affordable and helping students complete their degrees in a timely fashion. It is obvious that the report card generated lively public debate and important discussion within Missouri’s higher education community that will foster improvement and guide future policy directions.

The challenge facing those of us in policy roles is the translation of these discussions into a meaningful and measurable set of goals and policies for higher education and the state.

Part of The Blueprint for Missouri Higher Education is a performance-funding model (Funding for Results). Success of minorities and underrepresented groups, performance of graduates, quality of prospective teachers, attainment of graduation goals, and successful job placements are some of the performance funding elements. The performance appropriation to the core budgets represents approximately $67 million to higher education over the last five budget cycles in addition to mission enhancement funds, technology investments and formula-driven increases.

While this program has been successful both in funding and improved performance, it still is a model based on individual institutional performance in the public sector only. In this environment of collaboration with K–12 and among all institutions (public and private), a statewide report card supports the system approach. Policy directives that encourage focused missions, collaboration, ease of transfer and wider access demand that all higher education institutions perform as a system of providers with some commonly agreed upon goals and measures.

With a strong private sector as a major educational provider in Missouri, it is important to focus the discussion on student success and state goals, not just institutional success and funding of the public sector.

As Missouri develops its blueprint for the future, and the new governor establishes specific goals for his administration, the report card provides a set of comparative benchmarks and measurements that will inform our discussion. Although we do not like to be considered average, and we certainly do not believe this grade indicates the quality of Missouri colleges and universities, the report card has been a catalyst for public discussion and has provided a framework of performance benchmarks for the state’s system of higher education.

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