Update on this blog. I asked for people to tell me if I was wrong, and a colleague who had a greater understanding of the new budget model gently did. That person gave me access to data showing that I had a few misunderstandings of the new BOG budget model. I now understand that the new funding model exacerbates the budget issues associated with declining enrollment since we now lose (a lot) more money per undergraduate credit hour than we did in the last model (and gain or lose less per graduate credit our) when undergraduate sch declines. Of course, we will recover more quickly if we can create a reason for undergraduate students to enroll here.
The other thing I learned, which is what I thought would be the case from past experiences, but it was such a focus of narratives that I heard I thought it played a lager role, is that the performance-based model is only at the margins, not the core of the new model. My colleague referred to it as a (the) red-herring, because the money involved is far less than the challenges caused by decreased credit hour production. I think my colleague confirmed, though, that the performance model is not comparing UNCG absolute numbers directly against UNC CH, but is based on marginal gains and losses from institutional norms.
Although I still may be wrong about this, the new information did not change my opinion that UNCG is not inherently disadvantaged in the new budget model because of the students we serve. In the performance part of the model, we have room to make significant marginal gains. Rather, it seems we are disadvantaged because of how the model was implemented. Part of it is just bad "luck"; the new model took effect when UNCG's sch production was in free fall from declining numbers of new students and a post-covid retention drop.
Usually, when funding models change drastically, quickly, in a way that really hurts units or schools, there is some period of "hold harmless" or for adjustments, I think the BoG helped to try and hold us a little bit harmless with an infusion of $3M in one time funding (this is from memory of provost's remarks) this academic year. I guess we either are not getting additional funds to help deal with the "bad luck timing" in the next fiscal year, or at least no one has said that we are that I have heard (and I may not be listening).
I also think my opinion still holds that a major effect of the new budge model will be to incentivize UNC CH and NC State to increase in-state undergraduate sch production, if those schools want to maintain strong graduate programs. Some have interpreted the decrease per graduate sch as a "defunding" of graduate programs. Perhaps it is. But, I read it as just a new way to support graduate programs. Basically, if an institution wants strong graduate programs, and needs state appropriations to do so, increasing in-state undergraduate enrollment is the path towards having the funds. This creates an indirect problem for UNCG. If UNC CH and NC State significantly increase in-state undergraduate enrollment, then UNCG will lose prospective students to those schools because they are perceived as better (though the experience of many students here with faculty is outstanding- I would take it over what I have seen when I was at an elite private or two flag ship land grants).
I still think the actions and narratives at UNCG right now, suggest to me that the budget issues have given some in senior administration the opportunity to do what they have wanted to do since they arrived: implement the strategy of changing the university from what it is, with a strong liberal arts and science core, to a 4-year "high-value" vocational tech model in areas like health, business and IT (and eSports)focused on the first job after graduation, in programs taught with fixed term faculty with high teaching loads, who are viewed as easily replaceable commodities,
Perhaps that is incorrect. Yet, I think there is nothing in actions or narratives that would suggest otherwise. Or at least the data chosen for program review don't seem to me to point to much of any vision for the future. The importance that rpk puts on federal labor market data- does suggest the focus will be on the first job after graduation. There is research data in the mix, but grants and contract data don't necessarily say a lot about the impact of research.
It does feel like a select set of data will be analyzed independent of any norms in our peer group with the hope that the data will define the vision. At least that is how I see it. Budget cuts are hard, but there are many ways to approach them. Our problems are serious, but don't seem yet to be existential. So, we still can have a vision other than just survive until tomorrow (and candidly, if survive until tomorrow is where we are, we probably should merge or close, fighting for survival of a public institution in the face of it not being needed seems wrong to me in some way in a State with so many good institutions). If we have a clear vision that is about finding a way to be the distinctive mix of select strong R2 research programs with transformational education, then that would lead to a different strategy to budget challenges, than a vision of transforming into a "new" kind of residential university focused on "high-value" vo tech programs in health, business, and IT, with a smattering of STEM.
I came here because of how articulately the chancellor promoted the distinctive R2 university mission which so fits the campus culture and my values. Thus, I still hope that the chancellor believes that should still be the future goal. If so, that vision should drive how we approach budget challenges and the institutional and comparative data we examine. But, if the vision is something else, which seems clear to me from what I know about people, decisions on faculty retention and the program review process is targeted toward the sort of change akin, but not as severe, as to what is happening at New College in Florida. If so, then I hope leadership can be clear about it so we all know that is the vision that will direct the strategy for addressing the budget challenges and the university's future.
My original blog is below- I stand corrected on the things I learned from my colleague (but I did not remove them from the blog so you can see where I was simply dead wrong). I still think that many of my opinions are still consistent with the data I have. Critical thinking is about changing a narrative when new information is provided and I am happy to do so. Let me end the update with a huge thank you to my colleague for correcting me on a serious misconception of one part of the budget model! And, keep the corrections coming,.
The original blog of May 1.
I was very glad to see the op-ed in Sunday's paper (4/30/2023) by a large cohort of former UNCG faculty who gave their careers to make UNCG an extraordinarily transformational institution. Their op-ed expressed concern about the UNC Board of Governor's new funding model. The model certainly has put people on edge. And, recent action/policies of the BoG around DEI, Faculty Grievances, Chancellor searches, etc, are simply scary to those of us faculty who believe in the power of higher education and of an organization that shares governance, with administrators having fiduciary responsibility and faculty having authority on curriculum and quality control of that curriculum. In sitting on the University's General Education Counsel this year, the faculty take quality control extremely seriously. It was inspiring to work with this group.
I have some concerns, though, that the new budget model has been a red herring that has effectively diverted faculty attention from more important issues. Let me state now that I have no inside information. I have never talked with a member of the BOG. I have, though, searched the web earlier this year to try and find out more about the specifics of the budget model. Those data could be outdated. There could be much clearer data available to faculty in shared governance positions.. So, simply put, everything in this blog could be wrong. Thus, this is solely an opinion piece.
My sense of the rationale for new performance funding model is not as nefarious as the narrative suggests. The increase in funding per undergraduate student, and decrease in funding per graduate student, seems to be a logical way to incentivize UNC Chapel Hill and NC State to enroll more in-state undergraduates to help subsidize their graduate programs. The ratio of undergraduates to graduate students at UNCG is relatively high, so it is possible (but I do not know) that the increased funding to undergraduates offsets the decrease to graduate students. UNCG is hurt by this part of the model because if UNC-CH and NC State enroll more undergraduates as a way to maintain their graduate programs, there will less NC students wanting to enroll at UNCG unless we offer something special.
When the new budget model first came out, I believe it was run with 2020-2021 data and UNCG would have received a 1.4% increase in our budget- about in the middle of the pack of UNC schools. Our ratio of undergrads to grads is large (larger than UNC-CH), so the decrease in graduate funding, may be offset by increases in undergraduate funding. I don't know.
Performance based funding models, generally should not be things that scare faculty. In essence, they incentive universities to get better- in this model better at student outcomes and lessening student debt. I doubt that any of us as faculty think we as a university should not get better every year at improving these student outcomes. We might argue that the metrics don't really define student outcomes, or capture other areas of excellence, but I can't argue against metrics like graduation rates, and reduced debt for students as outcomes that UNCG should get better at.
The narrative has been that the new performance funding model pits UNCG against schools like UNC CH with direct comparisons. That is not how I understood the performance-based model. Like most states, I understood that the performance metrics would be weighted by institutional missions and targets, and driven by marginal improvements. If that is true, the model does no inherently disfavor UNCG. I am sure the downturn and enrollment and retention in the last two years would hurt us in the performance model, but would have hurt us in the old model, too. But, without knowing how performance based metrics are weighted by institution, I certainly can't tell how much the model would help or hurt us. In general, UNCG has a lot of room to improve those metrics, which means we theoretically would have a great chance of winning in the new model.
I worry that new performance-based funding model is a red herring that leadership has relied upon keeping the spotlight off the new "vision" for UNCG. Given the data UNCG is using in program review such as the focus on faculty teaching productivity data rather than instructional costs; given the explicit requirement not to use comparative data like the Delaware Study in the review; given the focus on Department of Labor job growth data; given the lack of concern about excellent faculty leaving; and based on my experience with some members (not the Chancellor) of the senior administration, my uninformed opinion is that the budget challenges are being used as an opportunity to transform UNCG from a potentially high functioning, and transformational R2, into a 4 year university with many characteristics you might see in a vocational tech community college that focuses on health and business (and maybe some STEM). The conversation about faculty teaching loads leads me to think that the goal is to get to faculty that are full time teachers (4-4 or 5-5) loads, on fixed contracts, who are easily replaceable commodities. This strategy would ultimately raise sch/faculty much higher and reduce instructional cost/sch greatly. The university would have a long way to go to make that transition - but I would be surprised if that is not the intention. The question is whether students would enroll.
I have to admit that I truly enjoyed working with the Chancellor when I was provost. We were completely sympatico with the vision of UNCG carving out what it means to be a university with distinctive research strengths with a strong and transformational role in undergraduate education. That vision seems to have disappeared. Rather, I see the vision leading us to a 4 year vocational school with non research, fixed term contract, faculty, ultimately sending UNCG into a death spiral because with each move toward that model, because fewer and fewer students will want to enroll. I mean community college financial models are the least stable financial model in public higher education. And, what would we offer in health and business that would make us more attractive than other UNC schools.?
I also have to say the budget challenges are real and I am glad I am not responsible for fixing them. Yet, I know that fixing them does not require the institution to fully reshape its vision and transform into something that makes conservative anti-higher education people happy, and I don't think that approach has really worked anywhere.
I may be completely wrong. I am always happy to eat my words.
Although my interaction with the chancellor around my termination as provost causes me deep animosity toward him as a human being, I truly believed in his vision of what UNCG could become. And, I hope he can up his engagement and reinvigorate that vision. We are experiencing true budget challenges. But, my experience in higher ed tells me that these budget challenges do not have to change the fundamental vision that drew me to UNCG and that the Chancellor expressed so well when I was recruited here. So, it might surprise people that I state "Chancellor Gilliam- we really need you now!"