The state has allocated more than $3.2 million to schools in the Oregon University System based on the number of specific degrees awarded last year, a relatively new approach to funding that may become more routine in the near future.
Southern Oregon University received $209,000 in outcomes-based funding from the Oregon Board of Higher Education. The money is linked to degrees earned by Oregon residents and traditionally underserved students at SOU.
That relatively small source of funds may grow because of a recommendation from Gov. John Kitzhaber's Education Funding Team and similar changes happening in states across the nation. Education officials say Oregon may allocate as much as 30 percent of its higher education budget in the next biennium to schools based on results, rather than enrollment.
"It's a way to really push people on outcomes," said Di Saunders, director of communication for the Oregon University System. "It's the direction that Oregon and a number of other states are going."
Allocations also could be tied to the overall number of certificates and degrees an institution awards, the number of successful transfers from a community college to a four-year institution or other achievements reached by students, such as earning 15 or 30 credits.
Additional weight would be added for traditionally underserved students, such as minorities, who meet the goals, the governor's team said.
Although the Oregon University System has allocated a small amount of outcomes-based funding for the past five years, it is unclear exactly what a more widespread change to outcomes-based higher education funding might mean for Oregon colleges and universities.
"The direction is to do more of this," said Saunders, adding that it makes sense that an institution be measured based not on the number of students they can enroll but on the number that gain credits and receive degrees.
"And once people understand this, they get behind it," Saunders said.
While SOU received $209,000, most Oregon universities, which enroll more students and usually award more degrees, received proportionately more.
Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, which both enroll about 25,000 students were awarded $764,000 and $616,000, respectively.
Eastern Oregon University received more money than SOU, $227,000, despite having about 2,500 students fewer, because the school awarded more degrees to rural Oregonians.
During a presentation in October at North Medford High School with Oregon's Chief Education Officer Rudy Crew, several SOU students and members of Rogue Community College faculty spoke out against the idea of outcomes-based funding, saying the model would penalize schools such as SOU and RCC that have high transfer rates.
The proposed funding change has forced RCC, which is not a member of the Oregon University System but would be affected by a statewide funding change, to re-examine its focus with students, according to Margaret Bradford, director of marketing and recruitment for RCC.
"We're trying to encourage our students to select programs carefully," said Bradford. "(The state) is trying to make sure students are completing their degrees and not just starting and then leaving."
Bradford said the school previously focused on access for students, but now will place a higher priority on encouraging students to complete programs.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is one of 28 states in formal discussions or in transition to outcomes-based funding.
Another 10 states already have an outcomes-based funding model in place.
In Tennessee, 100 percent of funding for higher education is tied to the performance of an institution, with measurements including degrees and credits completed, graduation rates and the number of graduating students securing a job.
In its session beginning Feb. 4, the Oregon Legislature will consider Kitzhaber's proposed funding model change for higher education and the Oregon University System's overall budget.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.