MARQUETTE - Public universities around the state are taking a closer look at higher education funding outlined in Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed 2013 budget, and Northern Michigan University is no exception.
NMU's Board of Trustees discussed the possibility of performance-based funding at its Dec. 16 meeting, worried that a broad definition of certain metrics could lead to a substantial decrease in state aid next year.
However, after the governor released his proposed budget Feb. 9, the administration is breathing a little easier.
"It's a positive start and we're very excited that there's some reinvestment in higher education," said Cindy Paavola, director of NMU Communications and Marketing.
The board began discussions on the impact of performance funding in future years at its annual retreat, which began Thursday.
The governor's budget provides an additional $36.2 million to state universities. The 3 percent funding increase will be distributed using a new performance formula based on four metrics: the growth in the number of undergraduate degree completions; the number of undergraduate completions in critical skills areas such as science, technology, engineering, math and healthcare; the number of undergraduate Pell Grant recipients; and compliance with tuition restraint.
Of that 3 percent, Northern is eligible to receive up to about $1.3 million. The university is slated to receive about $38.3 million in operations funding as well.
Though the first metric is currently working in their favor, as NMU has had some large graduating classes recently, Paavola said there is some concern with a potential decline in enrollment down the road garnering less money for the university.
"We anticipate a lot of out demographic decline to happen in the future, so we could be hurt on that side in the future if enrollment does in fact stay flat or go down," Paavola said. "We've had two of our largest graduating classes in the past couple semesters, though. Having an increase in degrees granted, that helped us."
In an effort to combat this potential decline in enrollment, NMU President Les Wong discussed a working idea called "4 in 4" at a forum held in Jamrich Hall, as well as during the last board meeting. The plan would attract 400 more students in 4 years.
Paavola said the second metric could pose a problem for the university, as only a handful of students graduate with engineering or math degrees.
"We fared reasonably well there, but that is one area where we'll be looking to see if we can potentially improve that area as far as the number of students who are majoring in those programs and completing degrees in those programs," Paavola said.
However, the university is known for its nursing program and also hands out a number of degrees in its various science programs, such as clinical sciences.
According to NMU's financial aid office, about 39 percent of students receive Pell Grants, so the third metric comes as a boon to the university, as does the fourth, since Northern is continually listed as one of the top most affordable universities in the state.
Though performance-based funding was a big topic for the retreat, the board will also be looking closely at NMU's administrative structure and its retention of talented people.
The board will also discuss a new road map for the years ahead. With 2015 fast approaching, the board is looking to strategically plan for improvements in the future, Paavola said.
Though the board will discuss all these topics, no official action will be taken on anything. The retreat is for discussion purposes only.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.