Monday, November 01, 2010

Incentives and Penalties for Third-Level Colleges

Writing on his blog, Ferdinand von-Prondzynski discusses in detail a report in the Irish Independent newspaper, which states that Irish higher education institutions will, under the framework of reforms to be recommended in the Hunt Report, face a combination of incentives and penalties. More specifically, "under a new funding system, colleges will receive reduced ‘core’ grants from the Exchequer. They will then be offered financial ‘incentives’ to meet targets in areas such as the retention of students, the rate of course completion, increasing access to college, teaching standards and research. If they fail to meet these targets, they will face financial penalties."

Ferdinand makes the point that a student retention target can easily be met by lowering the demands made by programmes of study, or moderating the severity of marking and assessment. He also states that "there is already a distinct financial penalty for student non-completion. A student who drops out will cause an immediate financial loss, because his or her fees (as paid by the state) and their part of the recurrent grant disappears". Furthermore, Ferdinand notes that if the HEA were to impose a penalty and withdraw further funds, this would directly lead to a lowering of quality of provision for those students who remain.

In addition to this, one could argue that it is not much good giving instiutions a financial reward for something that they need finance to achieve. Improving student retention will require enhanced student services, which in turn will cost money. Research by Joshua Angrist, Daniel Lang and Philip Oreopoulos shows that student services improve retention and achievement for females at Canadian colleges, even when incentives are also provided. The picture for males seems more complicated, but we do know from this Canadian study that females are more likely to use services than males. We also know from the recent HEA report, Study of Progression in Irish Higher Education, that males are more likely than females to not complete their course (17% male to 13% female non-completion rates).

From reading the accompanying HEA press release, it has come to my attention that there was a conference on student retention held in Dublin last Thursday. If one scrolls down on this webpage from the Irish Learning Technology Association, the flier can be seen. An American perspective was outlined by Prof. Vincent Tinto, Syracuse University, New York. Prof. Tinto's address, and presentations by other delegates can be accessed on this page of the HEA website. On a related note, readers may be interested to know that the full programme has been announced for the upcoming ESRI Higher Education Policy Conference on November 16th.

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