LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday he will ask the Legislature to approve a $10 million increase in funding to colleges and universities for the 2018-19 fiscal year, conditioned on passage of a proposed new outcomes-based funding formula for higher education.
The state Higher Education Coordinating Board approved a basic framework for the proposed funding formula in July, but the plan needs legislative approval before it can be implemented.
In a news conference Monday at the state Capitol, the governor said he wants lawmakers to approve the new formula during the legislative session that begins in January so colleges and universities will have to time to prepare to begin being funded under it in fiscal 2019. He said higher education has not received a broad funding increase since 1996.
Funding would remain flat in fiscal 2018, Hutchinson said.
“This is one of my highest priorities for the next legislative session,” he said, standing with several leaders of two- and four-year colleges on either side of him.
Under a 2011 state law, 10 percent of funding to colleges and universities is based on achievement of certain outcomes, a percentage that originally was supposed to increase each year but was frozen by the Legislature in 2013 because of flat funding for higher education. Enrollment numbers are the primary basis for distributing funds under the current system.
The new proposed formula — the details of which will be fleshed out by higher education officials later if the framework is approved by lawmakers — would be 100 percent outcomes-based, making Arkansas the first state in the nation to have such a system.
Institutions would be rewarded for meeting goals such as increasing degree-completion rates, increasing the level of progress students are making toward degrees, helping at-risk students achieve academic success, reducing achievement gaps, becoming more efficient and becoming more affordable.
Schools also could be penalized financially for failing to achieve goals. Funding increases or decreases could be no greater than 2 percent from one year to the next.
State Department of Higher Education Director Maria Markham told reporters after the news conference that “some schools have a higher level of comfort than the others with where we are right now on the specifics of the formula,” but she said the governor’s pledge to boost higher education funding by $10 million should make the change easier to accept.
“They thought without new money you’re just taking from one group and giving to another group, and that was not something that they were ready to support,” she said. “I think that the announcement today for the infusion of cash into higher education has eased a lot of concerns, so I look forward to having some conversations after this with those who have been holding back a little bit from their full support to see how they feel moving forward.