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Audit Questions Whether Missouri Higher Education Incentive Program Has Benefit

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A state program that gives Missouri colleges and universities additional funding for meeting performance goals needs a lot of work, according to state auditor Nicole Galloway.

The program awards institutions a portion of state funding — up to 5 percent of each school's core higher education funding —based on measures such as graduation rates and learning quality. 

The level of success is determined by how well each college compares to its peers. 

This week, Galloway’s office released an audit of the program, which found that the minimum performance guidelines are unclear, so universities are on their own to measure their success.

The audit also found that the Department of Higher Education doesn't offer adequate guidelines for selecting a peer group, meaning colleges could potentially downgrade to a lower-performing group in order to meet the standards of success. 

Furthermore, institutions report their results on an honor system and the Department of Higher Education doesn’t verify the data used to determine performance.

"The legislature and the Department of Higher Education must take responsibility for creating appropriate guidelines and improving program management and oversight," Galloway said in a prepared statement. 

"Without that commitment, it is difficult to determine whether the program provides any real benefits or if it simply creates another bureaucratic task that leads to more paperwork, but fails to improve educational outcomes."

The Department of Higher Education responded in the audit, acknowledging need for improvement in these areas. Among other actions, it suggested the creation of a task force in 2017 to begin addressing the concerns. 

The department also said that they're limited by their budget and size of their staff, so not all of the auditors recommendations are feasible. 

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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