Office of Planning and Budgeting

In an effort to lower instructional costs and increase the quality of class materials in community colleges, President Obama has started a program to promote the creation and use of open educational resources (OERs). OERs are defined as “high-quality” educational materials, such as books, lectures, exams, study guides, and syllabi, which are published under a Creative Commons license and can be freely accessed on the Web. The material can be presented as an entire course, or it can be broken up into individual lessons or tutorials.

The Department of Education has hired Hal Plotkin, a prominent journalist and community college trustee, to expand the prevalence and recognition of OERs worldwide with $2 billion of government funds.

MIT and Carnegie-Mellon each pioneered open courseware programs a decade ago, in order to make their educational materials more accessible to those outside the university. Since then, new services like Khan Academy, a tutorial website, and iTunes U, a collection of free lectures from prestigious institutions, have steadily gained recognition and importance.

Plotkin hopes that the additional funding for OERs will help community colleges offer courses and class materials at a lower cost and improve accessibility for non-traditional students. Federal support for OERs also focuses resources and attention on an e-learning system infrastructure. Plotkin intends to continue the growth and recognition of OERs in order to benefit thousands of interested learners.

The OER movement is gaining ground in Washington State, as well. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges more than $6 million dollars to launch the Washington State Student Completion Initiative. Part of this money will go towards creating an Open Course Library of over 80 high-demand introductory courses at Washington community and technical colleges intended to reduce educational materials costs and encourage free access to common course packs, online lectures, and library materials.

To read more about OERs and the specific program Plotkin manages, check out the Kevin Carey’s summary of the new policy and Plotkin’s own guidebook called “Free to Learn.”

As state legislative season wears on, here is an update on some of the efforts in other states to achieve greater financial and regulatory freedom for public higher education institutions facing another year of steep budget cuts.

  • Virginia: The legislature passed the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011. For details on the major aims of this legislation, see our earlier post. The State Council of Higher Education for Virgina (SCHEV) provides an overview of how the final bill differs from the original bill, including, among other things, the addition of a goal to recognize the unique missions and contributions of different institutions.The Act now awaits the signature of the Governor, who proposed the initial bill.
  • New York:  The Legislature passed a budget that did not include provisions contained in the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act proposed by the SUNY system. The Act sought increased autonomy from state processes and freedom in managing institutional resources, especially in light of significant budget cuts since 2008. The state not only decided to include none of the flexibility measures, but hit the system with another $210 million in cuts. Having lost 30 percent of its state funding in three years, this huge network of over 60 campuses is determined to continue fighting to maintain access and quality.
  • Wisconsin: The New Badger Partnership proposed by UW Madison continues to be controversial in Wisconsin. Feeling left behind by the proposal to ‘set free’ the flagship institution, the UW System Regents have endorsed their own proposal, the Wisconsin Idea Partnership, which includes freedoms and flexibilities for all system campuses. The Legislature will consider both proposals in the coming month.
  • Oregon: University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere has made an agreement with Governor John Kitzhaber to put the University’s ‘New Partnership’ legislation on hold for a year in favor of supporting passage of the Governor’s legislation, which creates an independent public university system in place of treating each institution as a  state agency. In exchange, the Governor has signaled an intention to support the University of Oregon’s New Partnership proposal for greater autonomy, including a new financing structure that replaces annual state operating support with a public endowment, in the 2012 Legislative session.

Note that the Washington State Legislature is also currently considering a number of proposals, both large and small, that might lead to regulatory relief and increased autonomy of varying types for the UW. Check out the bills that the UW ‘strongly supports’ and ‘supports’ in the BillTracker for more information on some of these bills.

Virginia’s Governor, Robert McConnell, endorsed all of the recommendations made by the Higher Education Commission he created last year to explore policy options for higher education reform. The resulting Virginia Higher Education Act of 2011 has moved quickly through both the House and Senate and may soon be on its way to the Governor. The bill provides $50 million in new funding for higher education institutions in Virginia, a UW Global Challenge State peer, as a ‘downpayment’ on the lofty reform goals outlined by the bill, including:

  • Producing 100,000 additional degrees over the next 15 years.
  • Providing incentives to increase enrollment of Virginia residents by creating target resident enrollment goals for institutions.
  • Creating incentives for improving retention, graduation, and time-to-degree.
  • Crafting new performance agreements focused on policy outcomes.
  • Enhancing efficiency by increasing institutional managerial autonomy.
  • Creating a higher education rainy day fund for use in economic crisis.
  • Establishing objective, peer-based funding goals.
  • Increasing state support and reducing reliance on tuition revenue.
  • Restoring state aid for students attending non-public Virginia colleges.
  • Increasing state need-based aid for low and middle income students.
  • Increasing year-round use of physical and instructional resources.
  • Increasing use of technology in the classroom, and increasing online course offerings.
  • Increasing enrollment in dual credit programs to shorten time-to-degree.
  • Creating public/private partnerships to increase STEM degree attainment, and facilitate commercialization.
  • Creating a catalog of R&D assets and activities so that the state can align investments with existing strengths/activities.
  • Creating an emerging technologies fund to recruit faculty, purchase equipment and provide seed funding.

The Washington State legislature is considering its own Higher Education Funding Task Force bill right now. Make sure to follow its progress via our UW BillTracker (bill number 5717).

A New Normal?

Posted under Higher Ed Policy by  

In A New Funding Paradigm for Higher Education, the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) puts the Great Recession into context and discusses the cyclical nature of state funding for higher education, which has historically followed a pattern of major cuts in poor economic periods followed by generous reinvestment in good times.

Considering the generally bleak assessment of the speed of economic recovery for state budgets, NASBO asserts that this boom and bust funding pattern may finally be broken. Many do not expect state funding for public higher education to return to previous levels, and this has states, institutions, and other stakeholders wondering what a ‘new normal’ may look like.

Many institutions think that at least part of the answer lies in seeking greater autonomy from state processes and requirements, and more flexibility in managing institutional resources. Whatever the outcomes, many are hoping that achieving a more stable and predictable funding model might keep public higher education on solid ground as we move toward an uncertain future.

Kiplinger has released their 2010-11 list of the top 100 values in public higher education. Coming in at 10th, the UW again ranks very highly.

Having also ranked 10th in 2008-09, the UW moved up to 7th in 2009-10, but fell this year after another 14 percent increase in undergraduate resident tuition.

Last summer, Governor Gregoire created a Higher Education Task force, comprising both public and private leaders, and charged them with proposing a new funding strategy for public higher education, as well as new ideas for increasing institutional accountability. The Task Force released its report yesterday, January 3rd, recommending three major reforms to higher education policy in Washington State.

First, the group suggested that tuition setting authority be given to the universities to help make up for budget cuts from the legislature. Based on their proposal, the institutions would use a formula to determine appropriate tuition rates, taking into account state appropriations, tuition at peer institutions, and enrollment levels.

Second, the Task Force proposed the creation of a Washington Pledge Scholarship Program, which would be funded by private donors. They hope the fund would reach $ 1 billion by the end of the decade. Corporations would receive a tax credit for donating, although that benefit would not kick in until overall tax revenue returned to 2008 levels.

Third, they recommended that the state give cash incentives to universities that meet certain degree production targets. In addition, they encourage universities to make plans to reach retention goals set forth by the state.

Finally, the Task Force listed other money-saving strategies, such as including more online introductory-level classes, developing three-year degrees, giving more credit for college-level work done in high school and at other institutions, and eliminating underused degree programs.

Make sure to check the State Relations blog for a round-up of some of the local press coverage relating to this report.

The Seattle PI drew attention to two major UW  Initiatives that were recently highlighted in a message from Provost Mary Lidstrom. Be sure to check out the new websites detailing both of these new efforts:

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