Higher Education Policy Commission asks schools to express concerns about proposed funding model

The chairman of the state Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) challenged some college and university presidents  to submit their specific concerns about a proposed new funding model for their 4-year schools to the HEPC staff.

“I hear the conclusions, I want the facts,” HEPC Chairman Mike Farrell said. “I want this staff to have the benefits of your facts so we don’t get into a discussion three months from now in the legislative halls that your thoughts weren’t considered.”

The funding model discussion has had some presidents on edge for months, concerned with the possibility of losing state funding. Farrell said that’s not the goal of the study.

Officials from at least two university, including WVU’s provost, are concerned that the funding model is not accurate.

“It’s merely a response for legislative consideration. It is not an endorsed document. It is not a final product that we say you must do something,” Farrell said.

The state legislature mandated a funding model study in a bill it passed in 2017. The HEPC took up a reworked proposal at its meeting in Charleston Friday, providing an update for the presidents and other school officials who attended.

Funding would be based generally on performance. Things like student retention, cost of instruction, degree progression, course completion would all play a role with weighting factors.

A public comment period earlier this year resulted in changes to the proposal that were presented Friday, including excluding from the formula all direct appropriations to the state’s three medical schools, putting a greater emphasis on credit hour completion while weighting some credit hour production for undergraduates.

Farrell said he doesn’t know what the legislature will ultimately do with the model but he’s hopeful it can be a positive for higher education funding.

“Your continued survival and hopefully your rejuvenation with an influx of additional money, recognizing the mission, is incredibly important,” he said.

Concord University President Kendra Boggess, who also serves as the president of the Council of Presidents, told the HEPC  there continues to be a lack of support for the proposed funding model.

WVU Provost Joyce McConnell also expressed concern. She said the model does not adequately reflect WVU’s expense connected with its land grant status, only mentioning the operation of Jackson’s Mill.

“There’s no other recognition of the expense of the land grant mission. The total is approximately $30 million a year,” McConnell said. “The land grant mission far, far exceeds the specific allocation that is simply given for Jackson’s Mill.”

There were also questions about whether the HEPC’s work on the funding model would be moot because of its future status. Gov. Jim Justice’s Blue Ribbon panel is currently studying the future of higher education.

Farrell said the HEPC would continue to do what it was mandated to do.

“As we move forward we are fulfilling a statutory obligation to have prepared this analysis. We will submit it and ultimately the legislature has the authority to accept in whole or part or reject completely anything we have done. But they will be more informed by what we have provided,” Farrell said.

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