Rewarding state universities for graduating more students rather than just enrolling more is a promising step, but it is only one piece of what needs to happen in the higher education system, and by itself, it won't necessarily mean more money for Southern Oregon University.

SOU officials say they are cautiously optimistic that the new funding formula adopted this month by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission will mean more state support. Under the old formula, 30 percent of the state Public University Support Fund went to the regional campuses. The rest was based on enrollment, so schools that attracted more students were rewarded, regardless of whether those students stuck around to graduate.

Under the new formula, the regional campuses still get 30 percent, but of the remainder, 60 percent will be distributed based on degrees awarded and 40 percent on enrollment.

Rewarding universities for retaining students sounds great, but there is only so much campuses can do to achieve that. Unless the Legislature increases state support, colleges can't hope to add classes or take other steps to keep students enrolled.

Making sure students get the courses they need to finish a degree is only one factor. Often, students drop out because they can't afford the ever-increasing tuition, or they are unwilling to take on more student loan debt. When tuition replaces declining state support, as it has for years, retention suffers.

Carving up the pie in a different way won't help as long as the pie remains the same size.