SUNY system considers using peer, performance-based models for funding

The State University of New York is working to create a new model for resource allocation among campuses that would replace the current model within the next few years.

The Resource Allocation Subcommittee, a part of SUNY's Budget Task Force, is brainstorming new approaches to resource allocation that include the possibility for both peer-based and performance-based funding, neither of which has been implemented in SUNY before.

"There have been over the years any number of different resource allocation methods used to allocate state tax dollars, and initially state tax dollars and tuition to the different institutions of SUNY," said Kenneth Levison, vice president for administration and finance and operations manager of the Grants Management Office.

"The current model, which is called BAP II, hasn't really been used for three or four years because it just doesn't work well at times when resources are being withdrawn. The new chancellor [Nancy Zimpher] and Monica Rimai, the Chief Operating Officer [of SUNY] feel that it's important to come up with a new method of allocating resources which is transparent and predictable," he said.

According to Levison, one possible approach would involve evaluating institutions within the SUNY system and determining comparable "peer" schools for each. This system is called peer-based funding. Schools would most likely be evaluated on criteria like Carnegie classification, enrollment and program mix. SUNY would then compare the amount of funding given to each of its institutions with the funding given to each of the peer schools and determine how to allocate resources based on those findings.

"My understanding is that if the analysis was done, we would be underfunded compared to our peers," Levison said. "We are a member of COPLAC, the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, and if we're compared with them, we're clearly less well-funded than any of those schools … Most of them are teaching between a 12 and a 14-to-1 student-faculty ratio. We're up to 20-to-1 now. However, I don't know who the peers are that this sort of computer model would select for us."

Performance-based funding is another possible method of resource allocation.

"There would be a series of criteria that would be the same for everybody. That might be graduation rates, it might be freshman-sophomore retention … and then diversity is another thing that they want to look at," Levison said. "My understanding is they will have a series of other measures … and somehow looking at those measures, you will either be rewarded or not rewarded in terms of funding."

Levison said that in the past, performance-based funding has not proven to be successful in other institutions.

"We don't feel that performance funding is workable without new money available for it, because if a portion of your base funding is based on performance, it's not base funding anymore," he said. "From a fundamental standpoint, if it's not new money that comes in every year so that it can become a part of your base, it becomes sort of one-time money that you can do certain things with but it doesn't lead to long term improvements."

SUNY will not be able to employ a new allocation system this year because of ongoing budget cuts. Plans are being developed for use in future years.

"What we've been told so far is that … they will use some kind of a blended method of resource allocation," Levison said. "That blended method will be something that considers enrollment, considers the different academic categories and creates a base kind of funding. A certain percentage will be performance funding … [which] will only work if there's additional money that comes in. They're working on how all of this will ultimately come out."