Updated 

Hutchinson wants revamp of higher education funding


LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday the state’s current formula for funding higher education is outdated and needs to be re-evaluated.

Speaking to a council of college presidents, Hutchinson and state Department of Higher Education Director Brett Powell announced the release of a draft of a five-year plan for higher education. The draft proposes setting as a goal a post-secondary attainment rate — the rate of Arkansans obtaining college degrees or technical certificates beyond high school — of 60 percent by 2020.

Hutchinson said the current rate of 43 percent is too low.

“This gap is holding Arkansans back,” he said. “We need to reverse that. We need to make that as our top challenge.”

The final version of the five-year plan, “Closing the Gap 2020: A Master Plan for Higher Education in Arkansas,” is set for release at the end of October.

Hutchinson told the college presidents that “I will continue to have your back” in terms of the state’s share of higher education funding, but he also said the funding formula should be updated.

“In my view, a formula should be based upon base funding, it should be based upon performance funding and performance measures, it should be based upon incentive funding to encourage the priorities that the state has identified, and then innovation funding for those new initiatives that merit some funding that we can all learn and benefit from,” he said.

At least a portion of scholarship funding should be directed toward targeted populations, such as minorities, non-traditional students or students working toward technical degrees, Hutchinson said.

He said he wanted Powell and the college presidents to work together on an updated funding formula to recommend to the Legislature.

Powell said after the meeting that 90 percent of higher education funding is based now on enrollment and 10 percent is based on performance.

“It’s difficult to plan around what enrollment is going to look like,” he said. “We’re hoping to get away from enrollment-based funding as much as possible and base the bulk of the funding on outcomes, what institutions are able to achieve.”

Powell said he hoped to have recommendations ready to make to the Legislature by the 2016 fiscal session. Hutchinson told reporters he believed the 2017 regular session would be the best time for the Legislature to consider the recommendations.

Details of the draft plan for higher education van be viewed at www.adhe.edu. Listed goals include:

—Increasing completion rates of colleges and universities by 10 percent.

—Reducing the percentage of enrollment in college remediation courses by 50 percent by better preparing students for college.

—Increasing the overall college-going rate of students by 5 percent.

—Increasing the enrollment of non-traditional students ages 25 to 54 by 75 percent.

Hutchinson also said he wants to raise the educational attainment rate of minority students by 10 percent in relation to other students and wants colleges and universities to reduce the cost of a college education by shortening the average time to obtain a degree.