Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Performance Funding - it's time.

Last week I attended Chancellor Dr. Nancy Zimpher’s State of the University address. http://www.suny.edu/chancellor/speeches_presentations/SOU2011.cfm. I applaud her effort to create what will hopefully become an annual tradition. It was great to be part of the event. A brass quintet from SUNY Potsdam played as we entered the dimly lit auditorium of the Egg in Albany. During her address, the Chancellor highlighted several accomplishments that occurred throughout the past year across the 64 SUNY campuses. She reviewed the University’s Strategic Plan – branded the Power of SUNY - and amplified the potential for this Plan to leverage a range of SUNY assets to help drive the economic redevelopment of the Empire State.

Dr. Zimpher also referenced the extremely volatile economic and political environment in the state – within which we all must navigate. Governor Cuomo’s inaugural address showed hopeful signs of repositioning SUNY for significant service. However, the financial challenges the Governor needs to address are likely so large that resources will continue to erode for yet another year while the fundamental structural changes to the state budget are finally implemented. The Chancellor made clear a number of priorities including student mobility – which has made groundbreaking progress in the past year – as well as student access and completion, with a special reference to the importance of online learning. She also referenced the possibility of shared services throughout the SUNY system as a means of creating efficiencies and economies of scale. Although it’s hard to say what types of services could be shared, the idea is a good one and will need everyone’s creativity and effort.

Perhaps the most daring part of the address came when the Chancellor proposed developing a performance-based funding model where a portion of campus funding would be determined by a set of measures that allow for comparisons between colleges. While the proposal wouldn’t start until 2012, and seems to only be directed at four-year SUNY schools at this point, I’m very supportive of such a move. As a taxpayer I say, “finally, performance-based funding!” As an educator, I say, “we will rise to the challenge and such an incentive can only make us better!” I had the opportunity to participate in such a shift in funding 15 years ago in Colorado – performance funding is nothing new, but something higher education still hasn’t gotten quite right. The fact that the Chancellor is putting this forth resonates what is often said with regard to performance funding, "better that we propose it and define it than hiding our heads in the sand, leaving it to others to define for us, and hoping everything will be okay."

Like criteria for institutional accreditation and assessment requirements, performance funding amplifies what we should be doing anyway – defining success; measuring performance; and linking it to resources. As a publicly funded institution, we should not leave performance to chance and simply ask people to “trust us.” We say that fundamental changes are needed to change this country, state, and region in most every way. Too often, when we hear a new idea like performance funding, it’s easy to dismiss it out-of-hand rather than giving it a chance and changing our way of thinking and changing our reality for the better.

If you have any questions on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.