Performance-based funding works, and the state should increase its investment

Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / The Texas Tribune

Since their inception in 1901, public two-year colleges have embraced a resolve to provide access to higher education for college-bound students, and to those who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity. In Texas, we continue to fulfill this historic mission through open admissions and affordable access to general education and workforce programs. Community colleges enroll 736,000 students in service areas spanning 249 of the state’s 254 counties.

Policymakers exploring performance-based funding could learn from the recent experiences of Texas community colleges. Student Success Points was established in 2013 as the performance-based funding system for the state’s 50 public community colleges. This contemporary funding structure is based on the premise that community colleges can simultaneously meet their historic mission to broaden access and realize measurable student outcomes, such as certificate and degree completion and student transfers.

Success Points considers the significance of the student journey by measuring student progression along an education continuum, from the least-prepared students who need developmental education to the most prepared students who are ready for rigorous, college-level courses. This 11-metric system also measures their progress toward credentials: completion of the student’s first term and completion of the first year of college, both of which are important mile markers for students served by community colleges. 

Community colleges want what’s best for students, and performance-based funding requires more transparency on their behalf. In fact, we have expanded our data collection infrastructure, and these efforts allow us to peek behind the curtain and scrutinize efficacy along the continuum of student progression. We’re able to get real-time data on programs and interventions not reflected in graduation rates, determine their approximate impact, and act accordingly. The program has raised the level of accountability and created positive financial incentives for outcomes beyond enrollment.

This system is designed to reward community colleges for improvement in student achievement. Individual colleges measure their respective progress against their own baseline outcomes, and because of the transparency built into the system, can compare their progress against their peer institutions. This fosters better results at individual colleges and a collegial competitive culture across the 50 college districts. 

Performance-based funding isn’t easy; it requires institutions to commit to reform, and corresponding funding support by state policy leaders. When it established the Success Points program in 2013, the Legislature provided $185 per point achieved. Today, the effective rate has declined to $172. In the meantime, community colleges have made great strides in student outcomes, including a 15% growth in Success Points. In fact, in 2018, community colleges conferred 119,000 certificates and degrees to Texans and taught college courses to 92% of the 185,000 high school students enrolled in dual credit programs. 

As the 86th Legislature advances its proposed two-year state budget, we have a historic opportunity to ensure that state investments in performance-based funding match the successes realized by Texas community colleges. Together, we can actualize the promise of performance-based funding and boost outcomes for community college students for decades to come. 

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Community Colleges has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Jacob Fraire

President/CEO, Texas Association of Community Colleges