Today, four things dominate the conversation in Montana higher ed:
· Developmental Education
· Performance-based funding
A Statewide Task Force convened spring 2013 and made recommendations for revisions in developmental education in Montana. In line with Complete College America’s recommendations, the major changes include shortened sequences of developmental courses to gateway courses, accelerated learning programs (pilot courses), adjustment to placement measures and cut scores, and other innovative means of accelerating students to and through the gateway courses (usually college algebra and first-year composition). Since then, Montana campuses continue to work to improve developmental students’ success.
Always an important metric, retention has renewed attention lately in Montana, partly due to new Performance-based funding formulas which impact funding for each campus. Additionally, since 2012, enrollment numbers statewide have declined. While the numbers remain 10% higher than 10 years previous, the trend is downward. Many factors might be impacting this trend, including an improving economy and tightened borrowing regulations for federal student financial aid. Here’s a link to the data on enrollment:
Performance-based funding took effect as part of an agreement with Montana’s 2013 Legislature, Governor Bullock, and the Montana University System to freeze student tuition through 2015 in an effort to make college more affordable for Montana students. Governor Bullock has set a completion goal at 60% (from the current 40%) of the number of Montanans who hold a higher education credential. Critics are concerned that an emphasis on the number of graduates will threaten overall rigor. A FAQ report can be found here:
An effort to increase the numbers of dual-enrollment students resulted in an overall increase of nearly 600 students between spring semester 2012 and fall semester 2013. Dual-enrollment is financially beneficial for students who pay about half what on-campus students pay. Additionally, dual-enrollment will help students accelerate through their programs in higher ed, hopefully improving retention and completion numbers. Here are links to three articles from The Billings Gazette:
Realistically, there exist tensions among stakeholders in each of the above categories, but the goals remain the same: more students completing higher ed credentials with less debt and in less time. We may disagree—and often do—about the methods and directions to get there, but ultimately, doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is not the appropriate response either.