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By W. Gardner Selby August 20, 2018

Greg Abbott falls short on vow to tie university aid to student successes

Republican Greg Abbott called in his last gubernatorial campaign for tying public college and university spending to student success indicators--maybe including whether graduates land jobs.

With Abbott seeking a second term, we're checking progress on this campaign vow on the PolitiFact Texas Abbott-O-Meter.

The higher education section of Abbott's 2014 compendium of proposed changes in law acknowledges that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board already developed a model for giving some aid based on colleges and universities meeting goals for awarding certificates or degrees. His call for action concedes too that lawmakers in 2013 moved to link 10 percent of certain community and junior college aid to how well students advance toward earning certificates or qualifying for bachelor degree programs.The same year, legislators also adopted a "returned value formula" tying funding to Texas State Technical College institutions to successes in graduate job placements and earnings.

A May 2018 presentation by Raymund Paredes, the state's higher education commissioner, reports a 20 percent uptick since 2014 in degrees and certificates awarded by junior and community colleges affected by drawing aid based on student successes.

Dustin Meador of the Texas Association of Community Colleges responded to our inquiry by emailing us the group's March 2018 report on outcomes-based funding in Texas higher education. The report details why additional legislative action resulted in the share of community college funding tied to student performance increasing slightly. More broadly, the report says a move by the 2007 Legislature tying $100 million in state aid to public universities to improvements in teaching and educational excellence represents the only form of outcomes-based funding for those institutions to make it into law to date.

Abbott's 2014 pitch for more movement takes notes of a 2013 legislative proposal tying at least 25 percent of state appropriations for undergraduate programs at four-year institutions to success indicators such as degrees awarded and six-year graduation rates; records show that House Bill 25 died before reaching the full House.

As it is, Abbott wrote, the state's public colleges and universities continue to field state appropriations largely based on enrollment. In contrast, he wrote, their funding amounts "should be based on student performance and timely graduation."

Abbott's call to action

His recommendation: "If the institutions do not achieve certain thresholds in the performance measures, they should not receive the portion of general appropriations tied to that measure."

For starters, Abbott wrote, legislators should heed coordinating board recommendations "by linking a portion of general revenue appropriations for both two- and four-year institutions of higher education to performance. In addition to incentivizing higher graduation rates," Abbott wrote, "the criteria for performance-based funding should also include metrics to ensure quality of instruction; for instance, universities may receive funding based on the percentage of graduates who are employed within six months of graduating."

We emailed Abbott's campaign about progress on this promise and didn't hear back.

Coordinating Board proposal awaits legislative consideration a third time

Under a 2011 law, the coordinating board is required to incorporate indicators of undergraduate success into legislative spending recommendations. Seeking a progress report, we reached a coordinating board staff spokeswoman, Kelly Carper Polden, who advised by email that no legislation advancing the board's proposal made it into law in 2015 or 2017. Polden said, though, that board members in April 2018 (again) voted to urge lawmakers to adopt a performance-based approach to a portion of higher education aid. The next regular session begins in January 2019.

We were guided to specifics in the board's May 2018 presentation, which generally focused on the state's goal of at least 60 percent of residents aged 25 to 34 having a college certificate or degree by 2030. It says the board recommends distributing a slice of funding to public colleges and universities, $160 million in fiscal 2020-21, based on students who graduate. The presentation says the suggested "graduation bonus" would be equivalent to 3 percent of state aid that goes to institutions via enrollment-based formulas.

Under the recommended tweak, institutions would receive the bonus at a rate of $1,000 for each graduate considered at risk of dropping out--meaning economically disadvantaged or academically unprepared--and $500 for each graduate not considered at risk.

About two-thirds of Texas undergraduates fit that "at risk" designation, the presentation says.

The board recommendation further urges that the "base" proposed state budget given to lawmakers at the start of the 2019 session tie the suggested $160 million to graduations. It's important, the presentation says, "to firmly institutionalize" such funding "as a long-term structural component of universities' funding."

We learned from the TACC report that in the 2017 session, Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, offered legislation to establish the "graduation bonus" program urged by the board. House Bill 1241 won a House committee's approval but died short of House consideration.

We rate this previously unrated Abbott vow a PROMISE BROKEN.

Promise Broken  – The promise has not been fulfilled.

Our Sources

Report, "Greg Abbott's Educating Texans Plan: Higher Education," Greg Abbott campaign, 2014

Legislation, House Bill 25, 2013 Legislature, "Text," "Actions," Texas Legislature Online, Texas Legislative Council, accessed Aug. 13, 2018

Emails, Kelly Carper Polden, assistant director of communications, Office of External Relations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, July 16 and Aug. 13, 2018

Presentation, "60x30TX Graduation Bonus," Raymund Paredes, Texas commissioner of higher education, May 22, 2018 (web link received by email from Kelly Carper Polden)

Emails, Dustin Meador, director of government relations, Texas Association of Community Colleges, July 13 and Aug. 13, 2018

Report, "Outcomes Based Funding in Texas: A Policy History," Texas Association of Community Colleges, March 6, 2018 (received by email from Dustin Meador, July 13, 2018)

Legislation, House Bill 1241, "Actions," 2017 regular legislative session, Texas Legislature Online, accessed Aug. 13, 2018

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