Imagine basing your company’s budget on its performance more than two years ago.

That’s the way it works for the state’s technical colleges.

Blackhawk Technical College is trying to make sure it gets as much “performance-based” funding as it can.

At a meeting in December, college President Tracy Pierner launched budget discussions for the 2018-19 school year with a presentation on “outcome-based” funding.

For the 2017-18 school year, the college lost out on more than $138,000 in state funding because the school’s results in categories such as job placement of graduates with jobs in their chosen fields and the number of dual credits high school students earn.

Here’s a catch: The statistics used to determine performance-based funding are based on a three-year rolling average that starts with the 2013-14 school year, almost three years before Pierner started.

Here’s another catch: The funding isn’t based on performance alone. For example, Blackhawk Tech met every requirement in the “collaboration” category but still received less money than other technical colleges of its size because of its enrollment numbers.

Despite those caveats, Pierner thinks it’s a good system.

Performance history

Outcomes-based funding was developed as Act 20 in the state’s 2013-15 biennial budget. Starting with the 2014-15 school year, a percentage of state funding for technical colleges would be based on seven of nine performance criteria. The percentage of funding for performance-based measures would start at 10 percent and increase. Technical colleges now receive 30 percent of their funding based on performance measures.

Performance criteria include job placement, graduates in high-demand fields, programs with industry credentials, number of dual enrollment credits, workforce training, collaboration between technical colleges, services to people in special populations such as veterans, and adult education and advancement statistics.

Some of the highlights from Blackhawk Technical College include:

  • Job placement after graduation.

Based on the three-year rolling average, 79.9 percent of students were employed in the fields of their choice within six months of graduation. That puts Blackhawk third out the five similarly sized technical colleges and eighth out of all 16 technical colleges.

Funding impact: The school received $30,000 less than average for similar-sized schools.

  • Graduates in high demand fields, as defined by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Based on the three-year rolling average, 72.5 percent of students earned degrees in such fields. Blackhawk is second out of the five similarly sized technical colleges, and third out of all 16 technical colleges.

Funding impact: None. This was not one of the seven criteria Blackhawk used.

  • Success rate for adults in basic education programs as defined by educational gains in standardized tests.

Over three years, Blackhawk had 2,663 students involved in such courses, and about 45 percent of them were successful. That put Blackhawk second out of the five similarly sized colleges and sixth out of all 16 colleges.

Funding impact: The school received about $13,000 more than average for similar-sized schools.

  • Dual credit courses: Over three years, Blackhawk awarded nearly 14,000 credits in dual enrollment courses. The dual enrollment program allows students to earn college credits while still in high school.

That places it first among the five smaller technical colleges and seventh out of all 16 colleges.

Funding impact: The school received $16,000 less than average for similar-sized schools.

System, school changes

For the 2018-19 school year, the performance-based funding system will change. Schools will be rated on all nine categories. A 10th standard, credit for prior learning, will be added.

Credit for prior learning allows people to earn credit for skills they’ve already developed.

Pierner thinks that performance based funding will “bottom out” in the 2018-19 school year and then begin ticking up, when changes made in the last two years begin to bear fruit.

Changes include:

  • More than doubling workforce training.

The technical college has received nine economic develop grants in the past two years. Previously, the college might have received one a year.

  • Increasing the number of dual enrollment credits.

Blackhawk staff have worked to recruit more high school students, and Janesville School District Superintendent Steve Pophal has also made it a priority.

“I think we’re go to see a substantial increase, especially with Steve on the job,” Pierner said.

  • More programs in high demand fields such as truck driving, supply chain management and mechatronics.
  • Programs to help adult basic education students get basic skills certificates while they are earning their GEDs. In the past, students had to finish the basic education courses before moving on to other work. Under the new program, qualified students will be able to do both at once.

Even though the college’s enrollment is a disadvantage when it comes to performance-based funding, Pierner thinks the system works.

“There’s enough of a carrot there to keep people motivated, but you’re not forever under-resourced,” Pierner said.

All of the measurements are good goals, he said.

“And frankly, we take these measurements seriously for two major reasons,” Pierner said. “One is the that the goals are right, and we do need to get better at job placement, at training for high demand jobs.”

The second reason?

“It’s good for the community, and it’s good for our students,” Pierner said.

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