During his brief visit to Northwest Missouri State University on Friday, Gov. Jay Nixon held the school up as a model for the kind of efficiency and accountability he hopes his proposed plan for performance-based funding of higher education will produce on campuses statewide.
"Instead of funding colleges and universities based merely on what they have received in the past, we will tie new funding to specific performance goals," Nixon said.
"Making sure taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and effectively is the right thing to do, and how we invest in higher education should be no exception."
Nixon set forth the performance-based funding proposal last month in his annual budget address to the General Assembly. If adopted, the spending template would reward some colleges and universities more than others provided they meet goals in such areas as student retention and graduation.
After praising Northwest's "impressive record of success" in those and other areas, the governor took pains to emphasize the importance of higher education to what he described as an improving state economy.
"As a result of our relentless focus on fiscal discipline and job creation, businesses are hiring, our economy is growing and we now have an opportunity to make smart, strategic investments in higher education that will expand opportunities for students and strengthen our economy for years to come," Nixon said. "The No. 1 economic development tool we have is education."
Under the performance-based plan, which must still be passed by the Missouri House and Senate, Northwest would receive a 4.3 percent appropriations increase for the 2013-'14 academic year. That translates to an additional $1.26 million and reflects the fact that Northwest has met each of five performance benchmarks.
However, the actual boost from state appropriations to Northwest's bottom line would be only about $900,000, since Nixon's budget proposal reduces baseline funding for the state's network of four-year universities and two-year community colleges.
Northwest received 29.7 million in core state funding for the current fiscal year, a number that would be trimmed to $29.3 million in 2013-'14. The institution has an academics/operations budget of approximately $82 million.
Overall, Nixon's budget includes an increase of $34 million for higher education through performance-based funding in addition to a core appropriation of $849.9 million.
In earning a full measure of the proposed performance funds, Northwest administrators had to demonstrate that the institution met all five benchmarks incorporated into the governor's plan.
These goals call for improved freshman retention, improved graduation rates, higher test scores, lower administrative overhead or an improved overall financial position, and an "institution specific" goal, which for Northwest embraced additional support for scholarships and financial aid.
Speaking to reporters following the governor's remarks, Northwest President John Jasinski said that the university would not "water down" academic standards in a bid to strengthen freshman retention or hand out more diplomas.
Page 2 of 2 - He said retention and graduation rates along with affordability were important, but that "quality education" would remain Northwest's overriding goal.