Utah's college students could be required to take a standardized test on general education studies by fall 1999 under a State Board of Regents vote Friday.
But regents also decided to no longer recommend the tests be used as a gauge for performance-based state funding.The regents in a phone conference unanimously voted to direct academic vice presidents to help develop a pilot testing program, find money for the $20 to $30 cost of administering each test and determine where it would fit into general education requirements.
"The purpose of the tool is not so much to measure the student as much as it is to measure the institution," said Regent David Jordan, who said the pilot testing program could be implemented by the 1999-2000 academic year. "We want it to be a serious examination."
Higher education officials are looking at ways to tie a portion of state funds to student performance. Lawmakers have asked regents to identify indicators for such funding.
Higher education systems in 37 states use performance measures. But just eight states allocate funds based on performance, usually limited to 5 percent of higher education budgets. South Carolina colleges and universities, on the other hand, will receive all funding based on performance by the year 2000.
In Utah, a higher education task force had included the tests in indicators for performance-based state funding.
But Friday, regents removed the tests from that list and axed requiring a class to prepare for the test after some questioned whether it was needed or an additional burden.
The tests, however, will be listed as mechanisms to increase performance at colleges and universities in a report to be forwarded to the Legislature July 1.
The tests also could be tied to performance-based funding in the future.
The tests would measure the quality of students' education, not determine whether they could forge ahead in their studies. Test scores could be compared to those on college entrance exams and results in other states.
But Frank Budd, president of Salt Lake Community College, noted many students at his college have not taken college entrance exams. He also questioned whether such tests, if tied to funding, might be divisive, as general education requirements in applied sciences are different from those for associates of arts degrees, for example.
"I see some serious unintended consequences with the approach," Budd said.
However, regents chairman Charlie Johnson warned the board not to water down indicators that could improve education. Regent Aileen Clyde agreed.
"This is fraught with all kinds of difficulties. But we need to be responsible to look at all these things," Clyde said. "We need to develop ways to ensure we're monitoring the students so they can move forward."
The task force identified four indicators for performance-based funding in its recommendations.
- Increased efficiency in graduation, or for moving students through the system faster by reducing superfluous credits through counseling, among other programs.
- Increased efficiency in transferability of credits between Utah's colleges and universities.
- Efficiently allocating faculty resources through setting weekly teaching contact hours.
- Student performance on professional licensure tests, such as the bar exam for lawyers.