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Gilmore to schools: Let's make a deal
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Gilmore to schools: Let's make a deal

By Dan Heuchert

Get ready for a new acronym. If Gov. James Gilmore's Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education has its way, there will be a lot of talk about "IPAs" from now on in Virginia education circles.

IPAs -- short for Institutional Performance Agreements -- highlight the commission's report, presented Feb. 3 in Richmond. Essentially, they are six-year agreements between state-supported schools and the state itself, spelling out each institution's goals, plans and budgetary needs for the period. In return, the state pledges how much money it will provide to the schools over the period, including a base budget amount and additional funds based upon the school's measured performance.

Among the measures may be a statewide examination of each undergraduate's "core competency" in each of six areas: written communication, mathematical analysis, scientific literacy, critical thinking, oral communication and technology. Other measures that could affect funding may include managerial efficiency, use of technology, success in attracting federal and private funding, maintaining affordable tuition rates, and in-state enrollment.

A link to all 73 of the commission's recommenda-
tions is posted on the State Governmental Relations
Office web page, http://

The report concludes 15 months of study by the 39-member commission. It contains 73 recommendations, which were included in Gilmore's proposed two-year budget plan. Legislators will take their first votes on them Feb. 20, when each house must act on its own version of the budget bill.

In news reports, lawmakers of both parties have expressed skepticism.

Del. Leo Waldrup, R-Virginia Beach, said future funding is too unpredictable to enter into long-term agreements that cannot, by law, be binding upon future governors and legislatures. Del. Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes, R-Richmond, questioned whether the current system needs overhauling. Del. J. Paul Council Jr., D-Southampton, fears the executive branch may be seeking to usurp the power of the legislature in setting budgetary policy.

Del. Alan A. Diamondstein, D-Newport News, said the timing for the proposals may be off, and that the state should first focus on improving institutions' base budgets before implementing performance-based funding. Now, he said, "we are nowhere near an appropriate level of funding for our universities."

U.Va. president John T. Casteen III took a guardedly optimistic approach. "We think [the IPAs] can work," he said, "especially so, if the state follows through on restoring the base budget, which has not had attention since 1990," when a recession forced statewide cuts in higher education budgets.

If approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gilmore, the first IPAs could begin to take shape as soon as this summer. Already, Vice President for Management and Budget Colette Sheehey is beginning to assemble a team to prepare the first draft of U.Va.'s IPA, which could be due as early as July 1.

According to the report, each institution's proposal must be approved by its board of visitors and forwarded to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which will review it, comment and forward it to the governor.

The governor will then review the agreement and negotiate changes before submitting it, alongside his budget recommendations, to the legislature, which will have the ability to approve, modify or reject the agreement. While acknowledging that many of the benefits of a college education are not measurable, Casteen said, "The state's target is management, whose results often are quantifiable."

The IPAs were not the commission's only recommendations.

The panel called for a continuation of the current tuition freeze "until the cost of a public college education in Virginia has recovered from the recession-related tuition increases of the early 1990s and is again competitive nationally." Once that is achieved, tuition would only be allowed to rise as fast as inflation; requests to further boost tuition would only be considered if all other revenue options -- including private money, previously excluded from state budget discussions -- were deemed exhausted. The commission also recommends allowing the public to have input into decisions to raise tuition and fees.

The proposal also recommends full funding what it called "true need" in financial aid and the subsequent establishment of merit-based scholarships, plus targeted scholarships for students studying to fill "critical work force needs."

The public should be allowed to view all course syllabi from the Internet, the report said, and the state should compile and disseminate comparative information about each institution's performance in several measurements.

The report outlines several suggested guidelines for boards of visitors, including mandatory training sessions for new appointees. Boards should take an active role in monitoring and combating grade inflation, as well as faculty performance reviews, with a major emphasis on undergraduate teaching.

The commission also recommended that colleges and universities work closely with the private sector to satisfy work force needs, as well as to "make preparing new teachers for K-12 a priority."

To enhance research, the report calls for the establishment of a "technology growth fund" to provide competitive, matching grants for federal and private research money. It calls on the governor and legislature to fully fund the Eminent Scholars Program, which provides additional incentives to attract top-notch faculty.



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