Student Centered Funding and Curriculum: Keeping It Student Centered

Virginia "Ginni" May, ASCCC Treasurer, Curriculum Committee Chair
John Stanskas, ASCCC President

The Student Centered Funding Formula was enacted through the Governor’s 2018-19 Budget Trailer Bill on June 27, 2018.[1] The formula retains 60% of the total allocation to a district based on full-time equivalent students, or FTES.  It then has 20% of the allocation based on Pell Grant eligibility, nonresident tuition exemptions, or eligibility for a fee waiver.  The new funding formula uses the remaining 20% to reward college districts for progress on student success measures. Thus, the first 80% of a college’s funding is about access and reaching out to first generation and low-income students, and robust dialog should continue in order to ensure that these important aspects of funding not be subsumed in chasing points for the last 20%.  Nevertheless, most of the discussion across the state has been about how the 20%-performance funding metric can be maximized.

Below are the success or performance metrics from the trailer bill language for funding community college districts:

Completion Benchmark Points Awarded to College District
 Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT)  4 (per degree)
 Local Associate Degree or Baccalaureate Degree (excludes ADT)  3 (per degree)
 Certificate of Achievement (16 or more units)  2 (per degree)
 Transfer-level math and English within 1st year  2 (per degree)
 Transfer to a four-year university[2]  1.5 (per degree)
 Nine or more CTE units  1 (per degree)
 Obtains a regional living wage within one year of community college completion  1 (per degree)

Clearly, colleges and districts have more incentive to award the Associate Degree for Transfer over a local associate or baccalaureate degree and, when possible, to award multiple degrees or certificates to a single student, depending on how courses may be double-counted for additional degrees and certificates.

For example, a student that majors in physics could earn a local associate degree in physics as well as an ADT and local associate degree in mathematics by choosing elective courses carefully, then transfer to the University of California. Such a motivated student might reasonably be expected to complete both transfer-level math and English during the first year. Thus, this student would have provided 14.5 points for the college or district. However, taking a closer look at what the student has earned, one might ask whether the degree in mathematics really adds value to the student’s education. After all, much of the major coursework required for an associate degree in mathematics is usually also required for an associate degree in physics. While some differences exist at the lower division level for the two majors, the real difference in mathematics and physics degrees surfaces at the upper division level when students begin taking courses at a four-year institution.

Another example could be a student that earns both a certificate of achievement and a local associate degree in nursing. The requirements for these awards would include at least nine CTE units. Furthermore, the student might complete transfer-level math and English during the first year and then be hired for a job following graduation, making a living wage. This student would earn 9 points for the district, but, again, one might question whether the certificate adds any value for the student that has earned the degree. Since nursing is a CTE degree, the CTE units would be double-counted, again earning the college additional points without additional benefit to the student.

Some problematic issues have surfaced regarding the limitations on data collection and the letter of the law. For example, a student who completes transfer-level mathematics and English in the first year of enrollment but finishes English in one district and math in another does not add points under that metric for either district. The same scenario is true for a student that completes nine CTE units in different districts. Another problem that has arisen is that a student who begins college in the spring term must still complete transfer-level English and mathematics by the end of the academic year to earn those points for the college. Additionally, a dual enrollment student who completes college-level English or mathematics while still a high school student does not generate any points for the college either.

Other problems with the performance metrics may also arise. Some smaller colleges may be disadvantaged because they cannot offer both an ADT and a local associate degree that corresponds to the ADT. Many colleges discontinued such local degrees to simplify degree pathways. In contrast, some colleges have the advantage of robust degree audit programs that are able to alert students and counselors as to degrees the student may be able to earn quickly.

The performance metrics also bring back into discussion a much-discussed topic from the past:  auto-awarding of degrees. While auto-awarding might earn additional points for colleges under the new funding formula, it may also cause problems for students. The previous example of the student whose true community college goal was an ADT in physics might be instructive in this situation as well. At the end of two years, the student may have earned enough units and taken the appropriate courses to earn an associate degree in mathematics, and the college would therefore auto-award the degree. The student’s true educational goal was to take courses for one more year to fulfill the lower division degree requirements for physics so that the student could transfer to a baccalaureate program. However, since the student now has an associate degree, the student must meet with a counselor and possibly file an appeal in order not to risk financial aid implications. At this point, the student might more easily just transfer, but he or she would not be as competitive in terms of transfer to the four-year institution for physics since the lower division course requirements would have not been satisfied.

One may ask what the harm would be in boosting the points awarded to a college district if doing so does not negatively affect students. The harm would be to the system. The California community colleges have finite funds available through Proposition 98. Larger or more savvy colleges may be able to leverage the funds and the formula more easily than other colleges. Thus, the funding would no longer be based on student success but rather on curriculum and budget processes.

Local academic senates, curriculum committees, and discipline faculty need to be cognizant of curricular changes that are made simply to boost the college or district budget but that might not be of value to the educational goals of students and that might, in some cases, create additional difficulties for students. Good practices should be carefully sought, employed, and modified as needed for awarding associate degrees, for guiding students as appropriate through transfer preparation when the University of California, California State University, or other transfer institutions do not require an associate degree, for awarding multiple degrees or certificates to a single student, and for increasing the number of students that complete transfer-level math and English during the first academic year.

As colleges and districts consider ways to maximize their budgets under the Student Centered Funding Formula, they must be certain to keep their focus truly student centered. Curricular changes should be made with the students’ educational goals and best interests at the forefront. From a curricular and academic perspective, the student in nursing or other CTE discipline should not be intrinsically more or less valued than the physics student or other transfer students. Curriculum committees and academic senates should evaluate these issues and determine the best design to serve their students and communities at large, and they should always remember that 80% of the funding formula is about access and service.


[2] The Chancellor’s Office may reduce a community college district’s transfer points if a community college district enters into, or expands, a transfer partnership with a private for-profit college that has not demonstrated a track record of providing its students with a baccalaureate degree that leads to the majority of the private for-profit college’s baccalaureate degree program students obtaining a regional living wage within one year of completing the degree program.

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