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MUS Officials Say They're Meeting Benchmarks Set By 2013 Legislature

UM's Vice President for Integrated Communications, Peggy Kuhr, says 13,044 students are attending UM this fall semester, a 6 and one half percent drop from last fall.
Josh Burnham

Montana University System officials told lawmakers they are meeting the benchmarks the 2013 Montana Legislature set toward increasing student retention and graduation.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian says performance based funding is driving change at Montana’s colleges and universities.

"You know what it’s done is its creating focus for us," said Christian. "And that’s the good thing. We’re talking about things that will affect student success. That’s the bottom line of what it’s creating."

It’s led to new classroom configurations or hybrid courses to enhance learning or using tutoring to keep students on track with their course of study instead of recommending

Officials are also urging students to take more than 12 credits to earn their degrees cheaper and faster. But there remains concern.

Representative Tom Woods of Bozeman is also a faculty member at Montana State. "I guess what I want to say is degree production gives me the willies," said Woods.

He’s worried under this performance-based funding model campuses will be rewarded for cranking out diplomas and lose sight of the mission.

"The point is a liberal education," said Woods. "And what I mean by that is not making more liberals like myself the point is to give students the tools to think for themselves."

The Democrat says education is more than just helping Republicans on the Education Appropriations Senator Llew Jones says performance-based funding doesn’t have to lead to lower standards in order to raise graduation rates or retention.

"Say that our job is to fail students or not to follow a performance path because we fear the risk that we are not smart enough to prevent a scenario of grade inflation is illogical," said Jones. "It would be to forever trap yourself into mediocrity if you pursue mediocrity you will achieve it."

The overview on performance based funding, accountability, affordability, retention and graduation kicked off the subcommittee’s review of the University system’s.

Later, the joint House-Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee will sharpen its pencils on that budget and forward it to the full Appropriations Committee

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