University performance measurements addressed by Regents


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The state Board of Regents has assigned a task force to analyze which factors should be used in assessing regent-university performance.  

University performance can potentially be used to determine financial aid and funding.

Patrice Sayre, the regents’ chief business officer, said she would staff the task force — providing data to the head, organizing agendas, and coordinating speakers to add background to the information.

The task force, she said, has been inaugurated and will gather more facts and background information on university performance standards during the next eight months.

Ultimately, she said, the committee will not make any decisions regarding performance measurements; rather, it will make recommendations to the regents. As far as the future of regent decisions regarding the issue, Sayre said, it is unclear whether changes will be made. 

“At this point, we have just started our work,” she said. 

Regent Robert Downer said university performance rates have not been studied for a long time and the study will either validate what the regents have already done or determine if they need to change.

“There are a number of reasons why this was done,” he said. “One is to ascertain whether the state appropriations that are received and deployed [are] in a manner that are providing the best educational experience for Iowans both in terms of quality and quantity.”

Downer said the reason behind the task force is to see if allocations of state appropriations are benefiting the largest number of students at each of the regent universities.

Independent public-policy consultant Art Hauptman spoke to the task force on Oct. 18 about why graduation rates should not be used as a determinant for performance. 

Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of the FinAid and Fastweb websites, concurred with Hauptman’s contention that student demographics have a larger effect on graduation rates than do university performance.

“Focusing on graduation rates may actually have the opposite of the intended effect, Kantrowitz said. “These schools that are doing better simply would be doing better because they are aggregating the most talented students, not just because their actual performance is better.”

Student demographics such as income status, average high-school GPA, and SAT scores affect graduation rates. Other influential factors include students who are the first in their family to attend college as well as students with children or single-parent students. 

Enrolling students with a higher likelihood of graduating based on demographics, Kantrowitz said, could raise a university’s overall rate without changing performance of the institution itself.

“One approach would be to normalize the graduation rates based on the demographics,” he said.

The effects of financial-aid distribution among universities could vary greatly depending on income status of students, he said.

Kantrowitz said among students from low-income and middle-income families, additional financial aid increases student’s probability to graduate by about one-fifth. For students from families with incomes of six figures or more, financial aid adds only about 1 percent to their graduation rate.

“If you’re comparing a college that has a 90 percent grad rate to one that has 30 [percent] you have to ask what is the benefit of adding funding to a school that is already succeeding,” he said.

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