Radio Column

Asa Arkansas's Governor

The New Higher Education Funding Formula


Column Transcript

In the capitol and the halls of higher education over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about the Higher Education Productivity Funding Formula.

But it has occurred to me that the “Productivity Funding Formula” is a complicated-sounding name that may not mean much to people outside of political and university circles.

So I wanted to look at this in more detail.

Historically, we have based the funding of higher education on the number of students who enroll in each college or university. Under the new formula, we will fund our 11 public universities and our 22 community colleges based upon student progress and not just how many students show up on the first day of class. We want the students who enroll to progress to a degree or a certificate.

Several principles guided the creation of the new funding model. First, we must give students access to a quality post-high school education. Second, we must focus on assisting and encouraging students to complete their education, with an emphasis on students who are underserved and at risk; we must also be aware of specific needs in the employment market as we guide students to careers. Third, we should offer incentives for institutions to work together and reward programs that successfully transition students across schools.

The general assembly passed the new formula, Act 148, early in the 2017 legislative session. I signed it in February. The law was a response to concern that the rate of graduation in two-year and four-year colleges has been too low. The goal of my administration is to raise the rate of graduation and completion from the current 40 percent to 60 percent by 2025. We have committed an additional 10 million dollars to higher education as we transition to the new formula, which we will use for the first time next year, which starts July 1, 2018.

Act 148 is a much needed upgrade of the state’s financial supports of its institutions of higher learning. If we are going to build a strong workforce so that Arkansas can compete in the 21st century marketplace, we must ensure that the diplomas and certificates we award guarantee that we have taught our students well.

As Maria Markham, director of the state Department of Higher Education, said in a recent interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, this is a necessary remedy to Arkansas’s historically low educational ranking.           

On so many fronts, we are building a brighter future for Arkansans. We are reinforcing the foundation of our workforce with our computer science initiative by preparing students at a young age to enter a high-tech workplace with a high-tech education. We are catching the attention of foreign companies; already, we have attracted several businesses and hundreds of millions of dollars of direct foreign investment in Arkansas.

Our new formula for funding universities and colleges will further enhance our reputation as a state preparing for the future by providing an excellent, highly qualified pool of employees. We are rapidly climbing to the top of the class.

I am proud to be governor of a state whose leaders put so much thought, energy and elbow-grease into making this a state that keeps its homegrown talent at home while attracting top talent and business from around the world.