South Dakota Board of Regents Executive Director Jack Warner said it is too early to determine how President Barack Obama’s proposed performance system for higher education might impact the University of South Dakota.
“We’ve been tracking as close as possible but there are really no details that have been forthcoming from the administration at this point,” Warner said.
Obama released an outline for his plan to reform higher education Aug. 22.
Several proposed initiatives include a link between financial aid and institutional performance and term-based financial aid by the 2015 academic year. The plan would also expand the eligibility for his “Pay as You Earn” program, which allows certain low-income graduates to cap their student debt repayment at 10 percent of their discretionary monthly income.
According to the release, such changes will potentially result in a more affordable experience in higher education for students and improve institutional success ratios. Warner believes reducing student costs and improving graduation rates are worthy aspirations but is so far unsure whether the goals are attainable.
“The broad prefaces are nothing I would argue with, but what’s in detail will be what determines how viable the proposed plan is,” Warner said.
Warner said those details have yet to be determined, as the comprehensive plan is still being hashed out amongst members of the Obama administration. Even when official, comprehensive strategy is procured, Warner said the proposal will not be up for a vote on Congressional floor.
“There is not a whole lot of detail,” he said. “The U.S. Department of Education is obligated to vet the particular metrics involved. There’s a very long process before all of this gets started.”
While the plan hinges upon many specifics, the link between college performance and federal financial aid is Warner’s biggest question.
“The link between financial aid and institutional performance may be difficult to accomplish,” he said. “If you happened to be geographically restricted and the only colleges in the region are not performing up to federal standards and lose financial aid, that’s when this might become a problem.”
South Dakota Board of Regents student representative Clay Hoffman said he’s been tracking the reform package since the president made his announcement. Until more details come forth, Hoffman said he has at least one initial concern regarding what the reform package might mean for USD.
“I’m concerned about public universities. They don’t graduate as many people as selective universities like Ivy League institutions just by virtue,” Hoffman said. “That might reflect bad for South Dakota universities since many are public institutions.”
In the absence of metrics and analysis for a performance model, Warner said it is too early to say if such a concern might affect any of the regental institutions.
USD Provost Chuck Staben said based on the limited knowledge in regards to metrics, USD would likely meet the standards to maintain federal funding.
“Though our retention and graduation rates are lower than we can achieve, given the quality of our students and the concern our faculty and staff has for students, we are not low in the terms that have concerned President Obama,” Staben said.
Warner also believes USD would likely measure up well in a performance-driven model; according to the 2013 U.S. News and World Report College ranking, USD had a 75 percent first-year retention rate and a 27 percent four-year graduation rate.
“USD’s been quite successful in student retention and it’s has been improving student graduation rates. Generally speaking, I’d say USD would do fine but again, it’s way too early for that.”
Hoffman said the ratings reform package is a news item worth monitoring. If students have concerns or take issue with certain aspects of the proposal, Hoffman said he wants to give those problems a voice before the BOR.
“I think students should be keeping an eye on it,” Hoffman said. “Students should keep an eye on current events obviously but this is a major higher education reform package.”
While Obama has said he wants to implement these changes by 2015, Warner believes such a time table is overly optimistic.
Because the administration is still working on the final proposal, the vetting process may also take away significant aspects of the original proposal before it would go before Congress.
Warner said Bush administration proposed several similarly aggressive changes to higher education during the that never came to fruition.
“This is going to take a while and much of it may never actually see the light of day,” he said.