Funding colleges based on the number of degrees they award may boost the wrong types of credentials for students, findsof Washington state policy.
The study focused on Washington’s 2007 Student Achievement Initiative, which rewards community colleges for improving student retention, progress in gaining college-level math skills, and completion of certificates, apprenticeships, and associate degrees.
Researchers Nicholas Hillman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, David Tandberg of Florida State University, and Alisa Fryar of the University of Oklahoma found student retention rates rose at some community colleges after performance funding was implemented—but declined at others, and there was no significant change on average. Also, while students earned more short-term professional certificates after policy enactment, colleges awarded the same number or fewer associate degrees, which are significantly more valuable for careers in the long term than certificates.
Washington has since changed its policy to reward colleges for students earning short-term certificates only if they lead to advanced credentials or well-paying jobs.
A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2015 edition of Education Week as College Completion