State gets $1.2M to boost higher education productivity

Monday, November 23, 2009 at 10:11pm
Staff Reports

The Lumina Foundation for Education will spend up to $1.2 million in Tennessee on a multi-year initiative to implement model programs for re-enrolling and graduating adult students who have left college and revising the state's higher education funding formula and Performance Funding program, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission announced Tuesday.

The grant, which comes amid budget shortfalls and rising college enrollments, is one of seven awarded nationally as part of the foundation's effort to increase productivity by promoting significant changes in how states fund and deliver higher education.

“Increasing the number of students that complete their degree is a primary focus in Tennessee, and being selected to participate in this effort is a significant milestone toward that goal,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen. “Tennessee's long-term economic viability relies on increasing our rate of degree completion.”

Bredesen said the multi-year funding would help Tennessee become more efficient in economic viability as the state seeks innovative ways to fund higher education.”

“Productivity is the new public agenda for higher education in Tennessee,” said Dr. Richard Rhoda, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “This means graduating more students within available resources with no decrease in the quality of the end product. We will support this primarily through our public higher education funding mechanisms and statewide outreach to returning adult students.”

The grant, which will extend for up to four years, will focus on using existing resources to graduate more adult students, specifically, adults who have left college without a degree but with significant credits toward a degree. Selected community colleges across the state will implement new policies and programs designed to make it easier for these students to re-enroll and complete degrees quickly, saving time and money.

“Obviously, we're gratified that Tennessee was chosen to receive funding to support strategies for graduating more students. In one sense, we've passed a test, but the real test will be whether we can sustain productivity gains in a way that significantly improves Tennessee's national ranking in educational attainment,” said Rhoda.

Additionally, the grant will support efforts by the commission, in collaboration with the governor, to make changes in both the state higher education funding formula and the Performance Funding program to provide stronger institutional rewards for graduating students, especially adult students.

“This round of grants represents Lumina's next steps in advancing a national agenda for raising the level of productivity within higher education,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation.

The grants are part of Lumina's effort to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025 to meet economic demand. The state investments are designed to stimulate changes in policy and practice that can be emulated. States also receiving grants Tuesday include Arizona, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Ohio and Texas.