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States push to tie university funding to better performance

California Gov. Jerry Brown helped bring his state out of a deficit and into a surplus.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown is pushing a new plan to hold down tuition and raise graduation rates at the state’s public universities. A new proposal would give those universities more state funding if they meet certain targets.

Typically, funding is awarded based on enrollment. The more students universities enroll, the more money they get.

“It’s simply been too easy to enroll students and then not focus enough on how do we get them through?” says Robert Shireman with the education policy group California Competes.

About 60 percent of University of California undergrads finish in four years. At Cal State, where many students attend part-time, just 16 percent graduate in four years.

Governor Brown’s plan would increase funding for those universities over the next four years -- if they keep tuition flat, accept more transfer students from community colleges, and graduate more students more quickly.

About a dozen states already link funding to performance, says Julie Bell, who tracks education finance at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several more are moving in that direction.

“Intuitively, it sounds reasonable,” Bell says, “but we don’t have hard evidence yet that says, in fact, this will work.”

Legislators will have to sign off on the California plan first. State officials present it to the Assembly later today.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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