How Performance-Based Funding Could Impact Wisconsin’s Public Universities

Wisconsin lawmakers are deciding whether to reward UW System schools based on how they perform. And experts say the idea has its share of pros and cons.

The concept of “performance-based funding” is pretty self-explanatory. As Gov. Scott Walker conceived of the idea in his biennial budget, it would award $42 million extra to UW schools…with strings attached.

In order to get that money, a campus would have to meet certain standards. The more marks a school hits, the bigger its share of the $42 million.

“That will include criteria like the number of graduates, the length of time to graduate, how many graduates are employed, and how many are in high-demand areas within the state,” Walker told members of the state legislature, during his 2017 budget address. “We want student success to help fuel the growth of the Wisconsin economy.”

Walker has already initiated a performance-based funding structure in the state’s technical college system. In short, each school is evaluated on seven out of 10 criteria. Each campus decides which seven, based on its particular priorities.

WTCS implemented its model three years ago, so it’s still in the early stages. But already, Executive Vice President Jim Zylstra reports benefits.

He says, for example, the performance metrics have encouraged collaboration among schools.

“We have certain colleges that maybe excel at one of the criteria over another one, and they have come in to meet with the other institutions, share what they’re doing well, share why they’re so good at that particular thing,” Zylstra explains. “That’s been a very positive outcome to all of this.”

Yet there are concerns about a new incentive system for the state’s universities.

For instance, Rep. Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City) worries that financial rewards could drive UW schools to raise their standards for admission — in turn, lowering access for some students.

“Any outcomes-based funding model needs to ensure it reflects…

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