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gives you a competitive advantage,” he said.
The answer might be a device that rewards collaboration,
allowing the originator of a new strategy to share in the success
of others who adopt it.
The largest uncertainty surrounding the new funding
system, however, is not the response on the campuses where,
as one administrator said, “we’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid.”
Rather, it’s the response inNashville where a newRepublican
governor and a legislature with 20 newly elected conservative
Republicans will hold sway over the higher education system
and its budget.
Haslam, the new governor, took office in January and
thus far has voiced support for the outcome-based program.
Haslam comes froma wealthy family in Knoxville that has a
long history of involvement with the University of Tennessee,
and he made higher education reforma central part of his
gubernatorial campaign.
The legislature is more of a wild card. It turned decidedly
more conservative after last November’s election, andmany
of the newmembers campaigned on a small-government
platform.
Higher education officials say they have little fear that the
legislature would attempt to dismantle or seriously tinker with
the program. After all, the system reflects many Republican
ideas in regard to government.
The anxiety, the officials say, stems from the fear that
the legislature andHaslammay not accept what the higher
education community sees as the implicit political deal of the
new system. In a nutshell, that
perceived deal says that if higher
education succeeds in its gamble
and operates at higher efficiencies,
then the state will reward it
financially. It amounts to pay-for-
performance, another Republican
ideal.
Education officials argue that
this deal is not merely amatter of
fairness. Rather, it is crucial for the
new system to survive and thrive.
JosephDiPietro, president of the
University of Tennessee, described
the problem this way: “If everyone
performs well and the funding stays
flat, we will see some institutions
with improved performance who
receive fewer dollars because others
improved evenmore.That’s when
the in-fighting will start.”
Right now, saidDiPietro, “We
are all locked arm in arm, and we
are convinced this is going to be amajor step forward. With flat
funding, that attitude could erode.”
Morgan reiterated that rewarding better performance is
“the key to the program’s success. Without it, you’re going to get
cynicismand resentment. College administrators are not going
to bust themselves trying to increase productivity if they believe
they will be punished for it. Nobody wants that.”
Hite, the president of Cleveland Community College, noted
that the old route of
increasing budgets
by increasing
enrollments
has been taken
away, and college
presidents now
need the assurance
of another route
toward expansion
other than
snatching funds
from their brother
institutions.
“The legislature
told us that the new
standard would be
the outcomes at our
institutions. OK,
that’s fine, but if we
measure up to the
new standard, don’t
come back and say we have to cut youmore,” Hite said.
The crucial year, the educators say, will be 2012, when the
financial results of the outcome funding are first felt on the
campuses. If the state provides enoughmoney so that every
campus with improved performance sees an uptick in funding,
the new systemmay be over the hump.
But the idea of an implicit deal is greeted with some
skepticism in the state capital. Mark Cate, a senior advisor to
Governor Haslam, said the question of whether improved
performance would be rewarded withmore funding is
“impossible to answer today. Appropriations are always a
matter of what’s possible and what’s not. Everyone is also
curious how the new (Republican) players in the legislature will
affect things going forward.”
JamieWoodson, a Republican state senator and a co-
author of the Complete College Tennessee legislation, agrees
that reform in a zero-sumgame is “a real challenge for the
leadership in higher education.”
“At the end of the day, though, that’s their job. It’s not about
gettingmore money,”Woodson said. “What I’d want every
institutional leader to do in the morning when they get in the
shower is think what they can do to align their institution with
the needs of the state, whichmeans making Tennessee amore
competitive place for growth and jobs.”
Right now, Woodson added, “rewarding higher education
with larger budgets is not part of the conversation.The
conversation is about outcomes.”
Ultimately, the fate of the funding issue will depend on
economic recovery in Tennessee over the next year, which is
unpredictable. As of yet, a resurgence in the economy and tax
revenues has not occurred in any dramatic fashion. Several
weeks afterWoodsonmade her comments, Haslamunveiled
his budget for the upcoming year. It proposed a two percent cut
in higher education.
u
Robert A. Jones is a former reporter and columnist for the
Los
Angeles Times
.
Richard Rhoda, executive director of the
Tennessee Higher Education Commission,
believes the new funding system will prove to
be more honest than its predecessor. “We’ve
tried to keep it as straightforward as possible,”
he says.
“The most elegant reform plan will do no
good if it’s not supported by high officials
in the state,” says Stan Jones, president of
Complete College America. “In Tennessee
the leadership has consistently provided
support.”
Dennis Brack, Black Star, for CrossTalk
Wade Payne, Black Star, for CrossTalk