Idaho might give colleges money based on student success

New funding ideas for higher ed

Idaho considering proposal to give additional dollars to colleges that meet specific goals.
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Idaho considering proposal to give additional dollars to colleges that meet specific goals.

Idaho colleges hoping to get a little more money could soon have to prove they are meeting state higher education goals first.

The Idaho State Board of Education is drafting a proposal that could go to next year’s Legislature that would be the state’s foray into spreading out dollars among eight public institutions based on how well they further the state’s higher education goals, such as increasing the number of graduates.

Idaho’s proposal, which uses a funding method based on educational outcomes instead of growth in enrollment or the number of credit hours taught, could lead to a seismic change in how universities, community colleges and Lewis-Clark State College get their dollars and what effect that money ultimately would have.

“The Legislature and the public like to see the product of public investment,” said Blake Youde, the education board’s legislative liaison.

Outcome-based funding is hardly new to government or higher education. Early proposals date back more than three decades, according to a 2015 study by HCM Strategists, a Washington, D.C., policy firm focused on health and education.

Nearly 35 states have some form of outcome-based funding approach. In some states, the goal-based money is tied to 90 percent of the state’s higher education dollars, and in others as little as 1 percent, said Martha Snyder, HCM director. Idaho is considering starting with a pot of money — perhaps $5 million to $8 million — that would be divided among the schools that meet graduation goals.

Just 25 percent of those who start post-secondary programs stay in the pipeline.

The dollars can be tied to a variety of education factors: the number of graduates from a college; improvement in retaining students year to year; or accelerating students through remediation to be ready for college, where they must retake classes they had in high school, such as English or math.

In the 1970s, college funding models emphasized more students enrolled in college, Snyder said. That has changed.

“It makes intuitive sense for us to align the way we are funding the institutions with what we need from our investment as a state,” Snyder said.


Idaho needs graduates from two- and four-year colleges and certificated programs to meet the demand for more jobs and better jobs that need workers with advanced training, state board officials say.

Increasing the number of graduates is likely where Idaho will start first with this outcome-based funding experiment, largely because it is fairly simple to track, said Richard Westerberg, a State Board member from Preston.

In 2015, more than 14,000 students graduated from eight Idaho schools with a range of postsecondary eduction from certificates to postgraduate degrees. But with that many graduates, Idaho will likely fall short of its goal to get 60 percent of its workforce ages 25 to 34 some type of post-high school training by 2020. The long-range goal: better-educated workers.

“There is a lot of concern whether we’ve got a shot at this,” Westerberg said.

The State Board, working with the colleges, hopes to convince lawmakers to dedicate money for the colleges to use as they see fit if they meet graduation goals.

Board members don’t yet have a specific number of graduates for each school.

“We will push numbers quite a bit because we need to do better than we are trying to do,” Westerberg said.

Only a few states ... have developed and implemented fully aligned state finance policies with objectives to increase student attainment and close student equity gaps.

HCM Strategists’ “Driving Better Outcomes” report

Gov. Butch Otter’s office says budgeting based on outcomes makes sense. Many of the recommendations from a task force on education are focused on outcomes, such as a career ladder that guides teacher pay and the mastery plan requiring students to know a subject well before moving on, said Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s special assistant for education.

“Frankly that is where you find the accountability,” Whitney said.

Outcome-based funding would replace a longtime method of helping pay for growth in colleges called the “workload adjustment,” which handed out some dollars based on the increased number of credit hours schools taught. The program was never fully funded and was trimmed back during the recession, just when schools faced some of their sharpest enrollment increases.


Under the Idaho proposal, schools that met their graduation goals would get money that comes without strings attached.

That could be helpful to Boise State University, which faces having to cap enrollment in its mechanical engineering program at 80 students next fall because it can’t afford to hire the professors needed for instruction. The program has been enrolling 100 students, but that is stretching the college’s resources to provide a quality education.

“We cannot keep up at this pace,” said Amy Moll, College of Engineering dean. “We would prefer to not need a cap, to let everyone in their junior year.”

The College of Western Idaho would face some thorny problems under a plan that rewards graduation.

For starters, a lot of students spend two years at CWI before transferring — not necessarily graduating — before going on to a four-year school. Community colleges would somehow need to get credit for that, said CWI President Burt Glandon.

Another problem is the high number of students needing remediation who come through the community college. The school has developed a plan to get students through college more quickly, and Glandon says the school should get credit for that, too.

Moreover, Glandon says, the money should be additional dollars that reward schools for successes, instead of simply redistributing existing money.

Otherwise, he said, “it would be a disincentive.”

How many graduates from Idaho schools

Total graduates in Idaho for 2015 was 14,026. Here is where they came from:







Boise State University






College of Southern Idaho






College of Western Idaho






Eastern Idaho Tech






Idaho State University






Lewis-Clark State College






North Idaho College






University of Idaho






Source: Idaho State Board of Education