Putting Excellence into "Partnership"


You've probably heard by now that the system has received $100 million in funding for the Chancellor's proposal, "Partnership for Excellence."

How are Partnership funds distributed? For the next three years, the funds are to be distributed to the colleges on an FTES basis-NOT on a performance basis. Distribution by FTES is a significant victory achieved by the collective efforts of the Academic Senate, faculty unions and professional organizations, as well as organizations representing trustees and CEOs, other administrative groups, and students. The Chancellor's original proposal, and the Governor's preference, was to have the money be immediately distributed based on "performance" of individual districts on selected measures of student achievement. Concerns about the impact on educational rigor and standards and the differential effect on diverse communities of such district specific payouts were raised by the Academic Senate and other organizations with the Chancellor, in consultation, with the Board of Governors, and in the legislature.

Partnership legislation states that the money is provided to make progress toward system outcomes measures. For now, these goals are system goals, not individual district or college goals.

Is it new money? It is not really "new" money. It's Proposition 98 money, much of it redirected from other system priorities. All of us got more, as the economy was good and tax revenues were up. The California Community College portion of Proposition 98 funds was approximately 10.4 percent this year. Legally, our split is supposed to be 11%, though we've never gotten that amount. Our share of the Prop 98 split has risen over the last three years, from 10.26% in 1996-97, to 10.27% in 1997-98 and the current 10.35-10.4% for 1998-99. (Nussbaum)

The Partnership was funded while many other system priorities and needs were not. While more full-time faculty and augmentations to many categorical programs were not funded, Partnership was provided as unrestricted money. The bill enacting the legislation states that "districts shall have broad flexibility in expending the funds for program enhancement that will improve student success and make progress toward the system goals."

Will ill it close the gap? In proposing Partnership the Chancellor indicated he wanted to seek an investment in the system to bring us closer to the national average of $6,000 per FTES from our current $3,500. Our share of Prop 98 did go up, but not all that much. K-12 got proportionately less Prop 98 funds this year, in part because the Governor withheld funds from them in an ongoing battle to force certain "reforms." In part, because the Governor was willing to fund the Partnership proposed by Chancellor. In part, because no one wanted to be "anti-education" in this election year. Nationwide, 1998-99 operational funds for higher education grew by more than 7 percent. (Schmidt)

The bill which enacted the "partnership" does make it clear that this is envisioned as an ongoing program to "supplement funding for enrollment growth and cost-of living adjustments." Chancellor Nussbaum and the Board of Governors proposed funding $100 million each year for the life of the program in order to bring us to within $1500 of the national average - an investment for which the system is in turn to be held accountable for progress on specific measures of student achievement. Of course, subsequent funding will be subject to annual budget appropriations. The whole program is to sunset in seven years (January 1, 2005). Further legislation can always amend that, shortening or extending the program.

What happens next? The system has until December 1, 1998 to propose goals and measures to the Board of Governors. A group currently is consulting on these, but given the time-line they are likely to be the goals and measures already circulating in a Chancellor 's office draft sunshined during the budget negotiation process. Currently these are: absolute gains in the numbers of students who transfer and in degrees and certificates awarded; increases in the rate of successful course completions (defined as C or better); improvements in work force development as measured by increases in number of businesses and employees served by contract education and the number of individuals in fee-based training; and improvements in the number of students making progress in a basic skills course sequence.

The system though must confer with several outside agencies before finalizing these goals and measures: CPEC, the Legislative Analyst's Office, and the Department of Finance. Indeed, these agencies are invited in not only to help determine the measures and goals, but later to evaluate whether more direct ties to budgets are "needed."

The bigger, more long-term question is whether the system will convert to performance based funding in three years. The legislation states that the Board of Governors will "develop one or more contingent funding allocation options, as well as criteria that would require the implementation of these options, that shall link allocation of the Partnership for Excellence funds to individual districts to the achievement of and progress toward Partnership for Excellence goals by those individual districts." The BOG is to consider these on or before April 15, 2000; the BOG is given the authority to determine if such a funding mechanism is needed to "adequately improve the performance of the system and its districts and colleges" beginning in the year 2001-02.

For now, we have staved off district specific funding, though the language of the law foreshadows its possibility. We have a breathing space and time to regroup. We have three years to influence the outcome of this debate-both through consultation and testimony to the BOG, but also through ongoing efforts to educate the public, the legislature, and the next Governor of the dangers and pitfalls of performance based funding in higher education. The next two to three years will be critical.

Unlike in other states, our own system proposed performance based funding. This was not a legislative mandate. In fact, the legislature was skeptical about partnership; the California Senate voted to give the $100 million as part of regular appropriations with no strings attached. The Governor's office, however, insisted that without the partnership program, the $100 million would be vetoed. But this is an election year, and the governorship will change. The political situation is fluid, and may be on the side of education.

Remember that while more states have been adopted performance based funding in the last few years, several have abandoned it including Arkansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Texas. Colorado is set to repeal it in the next fiscal year. And in those states which do have performance funding, already it is clear that the national trend is away from state mandated, centrally prescribed goals; more recently adopted programs appear "much less aggressive and ambitious and much more cautious and careful." States appear much more concerned about the problems of "hasty implementation, too many indicators, and budget instability" which have accompanied performance funding. Publicity and analyses about the dismal effect of this approach on South Carolina higher education have evidently served as a cautionary tale. (Burke & Serban, 11-13)

The Academic Senate must continue to take the lead in researching and articulating the case against performance funding and its negative impact on educational quality, student access and the regional distribution of educational dollars. We must document and publicize as we go the likely scenarios that would result if student achievement were translated into a basis for funding. The threat to access of a prolonged period of differential allocation of state funds based on student performance remains the most important problem with performance funding approaches.

But the Partnership is here. What does it mean for my district now?

Your district has received an FTES based allocation of noncategorical Partnership funds. These funds become part of the base. By now you should know how much your district received-if you do not know, ask. Or call the Academic Senate office and we'll help you find out. The partnership funds are about 3% overall of the system's budget. The question is, how will your district and college spend these funds?

Already there are reports that some districts intend merely to use the funds to balance the budget and/or build reserves. If your district is one of those, don't let it happen. Don't let decisions about such a large sum of money undermine agreed-upon budget processes. Raise the issue of the legislative intent of the program. Request that the Board direct their designee to consult with the academic senate on this issue.

What should local academic senates consider in responding to Partnership for Excellence?

A comprehensive approach to addressing unmet needs of students is the wisest response to partnership money. Faculty have many ideas and programs they have wanted funded over the years. For this money to really make a difference in the lives of our students, the money must be used in educationally sound ventures to improve students' lives and educational opportunities. Resist the pressure or the temptation to cut corners "just in case" the program turns into performance funding later. Remember, faculty must safeguard the educational quality of our colleges-our students are counting on us.

What would your academic senate do with funds if they had them? Dare to dream of actually being able to do some of those things you know can make a difference. Take an active lead in determining the use of these funds at your college. After all, standards and policies regarding student preparation and success are among the academic and professional matters entrusted to the academic senates.

Academic senates should utilize collegial consultation to determine the process by which partnership funds will be invested. Districts are required to determine institutional planning and budget development processes in consultation with the local academic senate. Where applicable, existing processes can be used. Similarly, educational masterplans should have mapped out in some detail the directions for the college in the next few years. Don't derail ongoing initiatives or dilute concerted efforts toward institutional goals developed in consultation with faculty. These plans and processes should guide you-the budget should be used to implement, not dictate, these plans.

If appropriate, consider convening an academic senate task force to develop senate recommendations to improve student success. Consider both instruction and student services in your deliberations. Ask for institutional support for task force work; include staff support, faculty time and research support-partnership funds should be available for this essential work. But do dream in large and bold terms about what can be done, and consider how to make those dreams a reality with funding.

Curriculum improvements, expanded student services such as mentoring programs and tutoring, extended transfer centers and programs, better articulation, innovative course blocking and community-of-learners approaches, all are associated with increased student success. Consider class size as well as student access to instructional, counseling and library faculty faculty. Remember the program standards set forth in AB1725 which were designed to establish quality programs; they were never fully funded, but remain sound goals to realize.

Consider, too, those programs and funding priorities displaced by partnership funds funds. Augmentations for matriculation, DSPS, CARE (part of EOPS), Puente and MESA all were either cut or vetoed altogether. These programs are precisely the ones designed to improve student success. Certainly colleges all have matriculation plans designed to address issues of access, retention and student success. If we want to help students, then perhaps we should revisit those plans, update and implement them.

Similarly, each college is required to have a student equity plan as a minimum condition of state apportionment. While the equity issue was repeatedly raised by the Academic Senate, and other consultation groups, as the Partnership proposal developed, it has not been really addressed. The absence of mechanisms to "level the playing field" between the haves and have-nots in the communities we serve is one of the most troubling flaws of the partnership proposal.

Faculty, however, can see to it at the local level that partnership money be used to fund student equity plans. The persistent differences in completion rates, degree attainment and transfer by demographic group remains one of the most troubling challenges facing us. Utilizing partnership money to address this issue would be a way to correct for the reality that student equity plans, while on file with the Chancellor 's office, have never received any state categorical funds.

Consider carefully the commitments you make, and whether all the system goals and measures make sense for your district/college and the communities it serves. Among the goals are increases in the number of businesses and employees served by contract education. Of course, accomplishing this requires having local businesses and corporations large enough to have the economies of scale to contract for workforce training. Smaller companies and individuals can more readily utilize fee based services-another of the currently proposed measures.

Again, a comprehensive strategy for economic development will prove more valuable to the community and our students than merely seeking to increase the number of business contracts. Faculty can use this as an opportunity to raise these broader questions-and contribute to the discussion regarding how to develop healthy and vibrant communities. Note too that current law requires that contract education be self-supporting; tax dollars are not to be used to subsidize private training in for-profit businesses. Enhanced partnerships with business and industry are essential, and necessary for us to accomplish our economic development mission, but care must be taken that scarce apportionment dollars not be diverted from public education.

All the indicators in the partnership program are quantitative output measures. They are about capacity, not quality. That doesn't mean that faculty efforts have to be focused on quantity. In fact, it is critical that faculty not allow themselves to be panicked into focusing on ways to "up the numbers." That is certain to lead to bad practices: a focus on outcomes without consideration of the means, or the educational process, is likely to lead to superficial game playing with numbers rather than real educational advancement for students. It will cheapen educational programs-and it will shortchange students.

Whatever you do, don't give into pressures to manipulate the numbers, play games with statistics, or to "teach to the test." This has been a consistent failing of performance schemes founded on quantitative goals. Make common cause with those administrators and staff who are excited about making a true educational difference for students. Challenge those who are pre-occupied with a narrow, numerological view to step back and think bigger. To secure true changes in our students' success is a long-term commitment. It can't be achieved, or recorded, in simple year-to-year progressions. It must be fostered by qualitative improvements in educational practice and a financial commitment to high program standards and support. It must be centered on providing both what our students need and deserve, an excellent education.

Ironically, the only way to get the quantitative results is to focus on, to insist upon, to pull always for the quality of students' education. Educational excellence and meaningful progress will be borne out by all students achieving continued success in employment and, after transfer, living richer lives and in better communities.


Burke & Serban, "Current Status and Future Prospects of Performance Funding and Performance Budgeting for Public Higher Education: The Second Survey" Nelson Institute of Government, Albany: New York, 1998.

Gaither, Nedwek, and Neal, Measuring Up: The Promises and Pitfalls of Performance Indicator in Higher Education, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 5, Washington D.C.: George Washington University, 1994.

Nussbaum, " Weekly E-mail Update," August 21, 1998.

Schmidt, P., "State Lawmakers Share the Wealth," Chronicle of Higher Education, September 11, 1998, A33.

For further background information and analyses, see September 1997, and April 1998 Rostrum articles on academic excellence and partnership; and the Senate paper "Performance Based Funding: A Faculty Critique and Action Agenda." All are available at http://www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us.