Individualized contracts bear financial costs for not meeting goals
HAYS, KS -- This year, Fort Hays State University, as with all 36 Kansas Board of Regents institutions, is in the first year of a new contract with the Regents. It's called a "performance agreement."
FHSU's chief academic officer, Provost Dr. Larry Gould, boiled the approach down to two words: accountability, improvement.
" This is a way," he said, "for the Regents to say to the Legislature: 'We have a tool for holding each of the Regents institutions accountable to the taxpayers for their performance.'
" Those that do not perform will have a portion of their budgets withheld for one year," said Gould. "This is a way to get the individual institutions to improve."
Gould served as a member of the Regents Performance Agreement Task Force, helping to plan the system. He has an academic research interest in this subject as well as an administrative interest as FHSU's No. 2 administrator. The task force ended a year ago this spring after 18 months of work. The Regents and the institutions have used the intervening time to implement the plan -- writing and submitting agreement proposals for approval and refining the agreements. FHSU's first performance agreement went into effect on July 1, 2004.
The performance agreement is a promise between each of the Regents institutions and the Regents to meet certain process and performance goals. The Regents have as a stick the ability to withhold a certain amount of funding if the institution fails to meet the criteria they have set in their agreements.
Gould said that this would be primarily new funding provided by the Legislature to the Regents. The Regents could withhold any money over the previous year's budget.
" And waiting around for a year is just not acceptable," he said. This authority and the one-year limitation on withholding funds are written into Senate Bill 647, the 2002 legislation that gave the Board of Regents the authority to review and approve institutional improvement plans and to enter into performance agreements with each institution.
The withholding provision does not apply to special purpose money -- money designated for specific programs or purposes.
The task force's work resulted in six goals for the Regents:
Goal A: Increase system efficiency/effectiveness/seamlessness. This is intended to "strengthen or extend collaborative efforts within and across sectors that result in a postsecondary education system," according to an explanatory brochure from the Regents.
Goal B: Improve learner outcomes.
Goal C: Improve workforce development. This is intended to "initiate, strengthen or extend collaborative efforts within and across sectors that result in career preparation, job placement and lifelong learning activities."
Goal D: Increase targeted participation/access. The aim here is to increase participation in postsecondary education by "under-served populations."
Goal E: Increase external resources. This means increased outside financial support for research, scholarship or program development.
Goal F: Improve community/civic engagement. The intent of this goal is to "initiate, strengthen or extend efforts that result in improved civic/community engagement" between institutions, students and communities.
Each institution's performance agreement has to include three of the Regent's goals.
FHSU's performance agreement has five institutional goals. Those goals, and the applicable Regents goals, are:
Goal 1: Meeting Kansas virtual students' needs, (Regents Goal A). Measurements for this goal include the number and amount of increase in students served, measured both in FHSU's service area and statewide, the number of classes offered that are available to students in the service area, the number of degree programs available virtually, and a measurement of student satisfaction.
Goal 2: Increase Hispanic participation in FHSU degree programs, (Regents Goal D). Criteria are the total number of Hispanic students enrolled, on-campus and in the Virtual College, number of transfer students from community colleges in FHSU's service area, the retention rate of Hispanic students from the service area and the number of students served from FHSU's service area.
Goal 3: Improving student engagement in the educational process (Regents Goal B). This will seek improvement in National Survey of Student Engagement measures of academic challenge index scores and enriching educational experiences index scores. Also measured are the percent of graduates employed within six months of graduation and the percent of graduates satisfied with general education courses.
Goal 4: Participate meaningfully in the American Democracy Project (Regents Goal F). Measures in this area will track the number of students involved in service learning projects, the number of faculty members integrating service learning projects in the curriculum, the number of courses that include service learning projects, the percentage of students who report participation in a community based project as part of a regular course, and the NSSE American Democracy Project Consortia Index.
The American Democracy Project is a multi-campus initiative by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities with support from The New York Times. The initiative seeks to promote thoughtful student, faculty and staff dialogue about ? and engagement in ? contemporary issues of civic concern.
Goal 5: Exceed NCATE standards (Regents Goal B). This is a statement of intent to exceed standards set by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in five areas: student knowledge, skills and dispositions; program assessment and unit capacity; clinical and field experiences; faculty qualifications; and governance.
" One of the things that is emphasized," said Gould, "is that all of these should be stretch goals. In other words, institutions cannot just stick to things they are already doing reasonably well."
Gould also pointed out that the Kansas Board of Regents is doing something that few, if any, other states are doing.
" The most unique thing is that in Kansas we are trying to align what we are doing at the department, college, and institution level and the Regents system level," said Gould. "We are aiming for overall improvement in the entire system of education in Kansas."
He said that 44 states are working on performance agreements, but many of them are limited to the institution level and do not even apply to units within the institutions.
The performance agreement is also linked to another initiative at FHSU -- the Academic Quality Improvement Program, an alternative regional accreditation track that focuses on continuous quality improvement. Assessment is required by the Higher Learning Commission, the higher education arm of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges, which oversees accreditation in 19 states.
The regional accreditation process is an accountability system that provides various standards quality and performance, said Gould. This is for the overall institution, he said, and not for specialized programs. It requires, said Gould, that an institution identify its top three or four priorities. At FHSU, there are four: attract and retain qualified students; re-engineer the university's student information systems; map and improve system processes in the university's Virtual College; and promote an environment that fosters research, scholarship and creative activity.
" We're trying to align these with our performance agreement responsibilities," said Gould.