Administration News

Khator: With outcomes-based funding, don’t block access from ‘at-risk’ students


UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator spoke on “The Completion Crisis” panel at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. | Cara Smith/The Cougar

AUSTIN – UH’s priority is providing access to higher education for all students who want it, regardless of age, socio-economic status or educational background, said UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator at The 2014 Texas Tribune Festival, held over the weekend at the University of Texas at Austin.

Khator spoke on the second higher education panel, “The Completion Crisis,” on Saturday, Sept. 20, which focused on the issue of retention rates among Texas’ higher education institutions.

The panel revolved around questions that arise from an inherent struggle in higher education between having a high graduation rate and allowing access to all students, regardless of how likely they are to graduate in four or six years.

Khator said that ensuring access to post-secondary education takes priority over raising a completion percentage, but that both are important and can be achieved.

“I think we as a public institution have a mission to provide education. If you have fire in your belly, come to us, and as long as you are ready, we will help you graduate,” Khator said. “We are serving a phenomenal student body… and no roadblock should stop them.”

The panelists discussed outcomes-based funding as a way of forcing universities to raise graduation rates. Outcomes-based funding is a system of allocating funds based on the performance of an institution, rather than enrollment or other factors.

Conversations about outcomes-based funding began in Texas, and as of March, twenty-five states use the model at some level of higher education, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The common complaint with this method is that it tempts universities to turn away “at-risk” students.

Chancellor of the Texas State University System Brian McCall said Texas could have “a near 100 percent graduation rate in six years” if universities did not accept students who are sick or who take care of sick loved ones, transfer students or students who were not in the top ten percent of their class. However, this would mean blocking access to education for a large number of people.

“From my perspective, let’s go for it, but let’s keep the impact at a manageable level so that we don’t penalize the institutions that are most committed to access,” President of the University of Texas at El Paso Diana Natalicio said of outcomes-based funding.

Khator agreed with Natalicio, saying that it is important to keep in mind what a University is primarily trying to accomplish before withholding funds.

“An institution like UH-Downtown, whose mission is very different… they don’t have the four-year graduation rate because they take more at-risk students,” Khator said. “Think about taking money from them and giving it to the main campus because they are already ahead in the race. I just don’t think it’s fair.”

Khator said that while factors such as income and educational backgrounds contribute to whether students stay in school or drop out, there is also a responsibility on the part of universities to do more.

“Even after you take all the factors out, I think there is still institutional inefficiency, (an) institutional cultural paradigm,” Khator said. “My message to my faculty and staff has been, ‘We’re doing great, but how is it possible that individually we can do great and collectively we can be mediocre?’ ”

UH is taking action to ensure that students who may be “at-risk” receive the resources they need to stay enrolled and complete their degree.

This year, UH launched its UHin4 program, which allows freshmen to sign a contract guaranteeing a four-year fixed tuition if they graduate in four years. Khator said 60 percent of incoming freshmen signed up for program, which is also available to transfer students. UHin4 allows students who sign on to obtain a degree plan that will help them plan their classes for the next four years. This eliminates the problem students sometimes have where a class they need for graduation becomes unavailable.

“The UHin4 students have a guaranteed seat in class if that’s what they need to graduate,” Khator said. “They have their graduation plan for the next four years, which means the departments have to show what classes they are offering over the next four years so you can plan your degree.”

She said advising at UH is also undergoing change, as advisors will now be held accountable for not just how many students they see but how many consistently return.

Since arriving in Jan. 2008, Khator has worked to change the culture of UH into one where students are passionate about being on campus, which she said breeds academic success.

“That’s the whole purpose of wearing red, of having this great stadium, so that we can have more pride and confidence,” Khator said. “I don’t know of any schools or fields of life where you can be successful without having pride and passion in that particular thing that you do.”

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  • Blocking access to poorly prepared students is certainly one approach to keeping admissions and graduation stats up. You can be darn sure that The University of Texas is not losing any sleep over this matter. They are not about to reduce their admissions standards even one point to accommodate the poorly prepared student. Rather it backs up on schools like UH, Texas Tech and UTSA.

    The solution is simply to provide alternate resources for these students. When UH was founded this school was IT in Houston. There was no Plan B. I’m not sure when South Texas Junior College came along but gradually two-year community colleges began to sprout up until now there is virtually one on every corner. HCC alone can absorb a large number of students who otherwise might not qualify for admissions to either UH or or even to UH Downtown. Even Texas Southern has faced the futility of the political correctness of being an open admissions institution. TSU!

    If these students are sincere then they can apply themselves, master the art of learning and otherwise prepare themselves for the job market or to transfer to a four year institution. Moreover, UH has taken the initiative of expanding the scope and mission of its former “system” schools so that today they are full-fledged four-year colleges.

    The mission of the Central Campus will therefore be allowed to continue to evolve into a Tier One education and research institution while students who would have little chance of succeeding at the Main or Central Campus have an abundance of alternatives. That’s a Win-Win for all concerned.

  • @MAM

    What you don’t seem to understand is the funding model president Khator is speaking of, is the same funding model for community colleges as well. So for all colleges and university’s to continue paying their bills, they may need to begin to only except the elite student and forget about those that did not have the support system that others did. When you tie money to education, you greatly distort what its true mission is, and society begins its decay. But hey, the small number who make it through will have money and jobs, but there will be a larger number of people who do not. We will have to pay one way or another, and I choose for my children and yours to have the opportunity to develop into productive citizens.

    The cost of education is much cheaper and more affordable when we ALL share in the cost. Besides, everyone is still paying educational tax dollars out of their paycheck, so if its not going to the school system; Then where is it going?

  • Bud, just a word of advice. Be very careful about imputing “understanding” to people you do not know. I “understand” this issue quite well. Moreover I have had to deal with many kinds of funding issues, including bond sales, taxes, etc. in over 30 years in public life.

    I’m not quite sure what “funding model” you are referring to but let’s cut to the bottom line. If you are referring to the amount of funding provided by the state to individual institutions then that has never been a level playing field. I really don’t have time to look up all the exact numbers but you are certainly free to do so. You will find, I am sure, that UT and A&M receive significantly more funding per student than does UH.

    Also, it costs far less to take classes at HCC than at the UH Main Campus. Period. It makes good sense to provide the network of 2-year community colleges to allow students who did not succed in high school a second chance. Once upon a time in the not too distant past it was UH or nothing. Now there is a significant menu of meaningful options. One size no longer has to fit all.

    Students can do leveling work at 2-yr. community colleges as well as take classes which will prepare them to transfer to a four year institution if they so desire. Since more and more public schools and 2-yr. institutions are also beginning to provide meaningful vocational education, many of these students are motivated to prepare themselves not for “higher education” but for the job market. Moreover many school districts are now partnering with 2-yr. community colleges, and in some cases with four year institutions allowing public school students to complete a community college degree while in high school. The Alief Independent School District is one such district that is way out in front of this issue, but there are others.

    And, the UH System has elevated the status of its “system” schools so that students now have meaningful options within the Greater Houston Area for completing a four-year college year. I haven’t checked lately, but I’m pretty sure that the cost of attending UH/D, Clear Lake, Sugar Land and Victoria is both significantly less expensive and vastly more convenient that driving cross town to take classes at the Main Campus, which itself is undergoing a metamorphosis.

    So UH has made significant adjustments to update its options, all while continuing to meet the mandate to provide an education to the working class students of the community. And all this is happening while the Main Campus is being made over into a Tier One educational and research institution. But students are no longer locked into having only one option for continuing their education. And they also can factor funding into their decision in a way that was previously not available. That’s Win-Win.

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