As the legislature deliberates the future of higher education, I hope that they will consider leveling the playing field as regards funding before they insist we meet new performance standards. We are not even with other community colleges as we line up to start the race. We are starting from 10 yards behind the others.
Unlike the Tennessee Technology Centers, which all get the same level of funding per student, TBR colleges and universities operate under a different system, and the amount of state funding allocated to each college varies widely. Because we are a relatively new college, Pellissippi State has always been way below the average level of state funding and often has been at the bottom.
In 2009-10, under the current formula, Pellissippi State receives $3350 per full-time equivalent (FTE).
By comparison, Roane State gets $4551 per FTE and Walters State gets $4229 per FTE in state appropriations.
Students at Southwest Community College in Memphis are worth $4972 per FTE.
The average of state subsidy per FTE for community colleges is $3985 per FTE.
If Pellissippi State received the average level of state subsidy for community colleges, we would have an additional $3.6 million dollars in state subsidy. Our estimated state subsidy for this year was $19,048,100, so you can see what an incredible impact an additional $3.6 million would have on our operations.
Performance does not enter into this calculation as Pellissippi State has always been above the average each year on the performance standards that have been in place for over 20 years. This year, Pellissippi State is at the top in performance of all state community colleges with a score of 95 out of a hundred.
My point is that state funds are not equitably distributed now. Will that be fixed before we move into new performance based distribution of funds? Since Pellissippi State is at the low end of state funding, our students (our citizens) would continue to suffer more than students enrolled at sister institutions.
The only institution of higher education in the state of Tennessee that can benefit immediately from a formula that rewards graduation rates is the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The reason they can do so is that they can control who enters the gates of the freshman class.
If Pellissippi State could accept only those students with a 22+ ACT score, high school gpa of 3.0 or better, and offer a lottery scholarship of $4,000, we might push for a similar change in the formula as well. But that would mean we would abandon our mission and our citizens would have fewer options to improve their educational status.
Regional universities in the TBR system can make the change over time, and they would do so, under the governor’s proposal, by moving riskier remedial/developmental students over to community colleges. This move would automatically increase their admissions standards.
Community colleges, with open door policies, cannot control who enters the college gates. Anyone with a regular high school diploma is welcome here, and we will help them move to the highest level of achievement possible. If they have to take remedial/developmental courses, which 60% of entering first year students do, our success rates are grim. It is very difficult to bring someone up to standard if they are weak coming in the door. Many make it, but far too many do not.
Also, every year we know that 20 percent of our students are here, not to complete a degree or certificate, but to complete one or two courses for professional or personal reasons. Additionally, we know that another 20-30 percent will transfer out without a degree. We don’t always know where they go because Tusculum, Maryville, ITT, South College, and others don’t tell us even when we ask.
So, how does the legislature avoid some of the problems in trying to fund the colleges equitably to start with and fairly after they implement a new funding system? Here’s my advice.
1. Start Pellissippi State, and all colleges, on equal footing to begin the new formula system. This will be difficult and will mean redistribution of current funds since there are no new funds available. Don’t make us start the race from 10 yards behind the starting line.
2. Separate the pools of money for universities and community colleges. Let us compete against other community colleges, not universities, for performance funding.
3. Don’t legislate anything that doesn’t need to be legislated. The Governor is chair of all the boards he needs to be in order to bring about effective change. I would suggest the Governor tour campuses and listen to the people who are trying very hard to serve our citizens on the ground first. Effective change can happen but we need to involve a lot more people in the process.