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Formula sub-committee to consider how to define course completion 

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Klaich catches criticism for plan that would fund failed courses

The state committee studying the Nevada higher education funding formula has created a subcommittee to deal with questions about how to define student completion and to consider possible local financing sources for community colleges.

State and Nevada System of Higher Education officials delved deeper into the specifics of an NSHE plan to revamp the state funding formula for colleges and universities at a meeting on Wednesday.

The state Committee to Study the Funding of Higher Education debated the merits of Chancellor Dan Klaich’s weighted credit hour matrix — a proposed system for determining the dollar value of any given college class — and how a new formula would reward “outputs” such as course completion.

Senate majority leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, termed the matrix a “one-size-fits-all” plan and echoed criticisms that have followed the Klaich plan since its early stages regarding how the formula would treat community college funding.

Klaich holds that state support for core courses — things like English 101 — should be the same whether the class is offered at a community college or a university.

“What is the state of Nevada willing to pay for English 101?” Klaich asked the committee in explanation of his theory.

The idea has come under fire for what some see as a neglect of the differences between institutional missions from a community college to a university.

“At a research university which is driven by federal [and private] grants, students get an opportunity to work with professors and post-docs on … research,” said UNLV Graduate and Professional Student Association president Michael Gordon.

Per the weighted credit hour matrix, NSHE’s plan would allocate to lower-division science courses 1.5 times the money it would give to liberal arts courses at the same level, but Gordon said that the additional funding outlined in the matrix for research-intensive fields would cover the costs of highly specialized technical facilities used for those disciplines, not compensate the university for the value of an undergraduate experience that includes research.

Horsford asserted that the context in which material is provided and the experiences of the professor teaching a course makes a difference in undergraduate education.

“How it’s delivered and who it’s delivered by matters,” Horsford argued.

The NSHE plan would also see schools rewarded with state dollars for student “completion.” Popular perception of the proposal has centered on its suggestion that schools be rewarded for producing graduates, but Klaich explained that institutions’ outputs would be defined more broadly.

“We have called completion anything but a withdrawal, including a failure,” he said.

The definition comes in response to concerns that incentivizing graduation would promote grade inflation.

Klaich said that schools should not be “penalized” for low student achievement once faculty has done its work.

“If an F is not going to get funded, then you have the opportunity for grade inflation to occur because the institutions have the incentive to give a blanket B or a blanket C,” explained Gordon. “That’s where the quality question comes in.”

Gordon is among those concerned that if the state defines “completion” as Klaich is suggesting, taxpayers as well as students may end up footing the bill for students to retake courses they fail.

“Everybody wants that accountability,” he said. “That is why when we talk about completions, we talk about successful completions.”

He said that defining the term gets to the heart of the committee’s task.

“We don’t want to be pushing widgets through the system,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure we come out with a quality product that our local economy needs.”

He said that state and system leaders are looking to balance the volume of student output against the quality of education NSHE provides.

“That’s the fundamental question of the whole committee,” Gordon said.

 

Haley Etchison reports on the Nevada System of Higher Education for The Rebel Yell. Contact her at [email protected]

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