After compiling a solid record of achieving goals needed to get extra money from the state of Missouri, Harris-Stowe State University met only one out of five of the necessary criteria in its most recent evaluation.
Data from the state Department of Higher Education shows that in its first year under President Dwaun Warmack, Harris-Stowe met only the performance target of having a higher percentage of first-time full-time freshmen students successfully complete 24 credit hours.
Warmack called the record unacceptable but noted that the school missed meeting its other goals by small margins. In an interview, he cited progress in a variety of areas, from more course and degree offerings to increased enrollment to a bump in fund raising. He said those measures present a truer picture of accomplishments during his tenure so far.
“We know we’re on the right trajectory,” he said, “and doing the right things.
“We’re coming out of challenging times. We just have to be strategic and make sure we’re doing all the right things right now.”
On another topic, Warmack said he knew nothing about reported discussions of the revival of an old idea: to merger Harris-Stowe with the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Such a plan was floated briefly back in 1984, with the resulting institution -- Harris-Stowe State University -- being separate from the University of Missouri system.
The idea for such a merger, which had been raised by Missouri’s commissioner of higher education at the time, died quickly in the face of widespread, vocal opposition. Warmack said any movement toward bringing up such a plan again should suffer a similar fate, especially in the wake of increased focus on educating minority populations after the death of Michael Brown.
“Harris-Stowe serves a unique mission,” he said. “With all that’s happened in the state of Missouri the past 19 months, I find it very hard-pressed for this institution – one of two in the state of Missouri with a mission to serve an underserved population – to merge it with any other institution. There would be a lot of explaining to do.
“UMSL does an amazing job for the population they serve, and Harris-Stowe does an outstanding job for the population that we serve. It’s important that both of us continue to serve our mission. The state of Missouri has a very ambitious goal for 2025 to ensure that 60 percent of all Missouri residents have post-secondary education opportunities, and Harris-Stowe plays a significant role in that.”
An UMSL spokesman said the idea of a merger is not under discussion on his campus.
Pay for performance
Performance funding for public colleges and institutions in Missouri began in 2012 to encourage them to concentrate on certain areas that the state considers to be priorities in higher education. Schools earn money above their basic state appropriations based on meeting five goals, with 20 percent of the funding coming for each benchmark that is met.
Harris-Stowe met four out of five performance measures based on data compiled in the fall of 2013 and received more than $404,000. Performance funding for all of the state’s public colleges and universities that year was $43.4 million. That amount dropped to just $12 million the following year, when Harris-Stowe met all five of its goals but received only $121,616 because of the smaller pool of funds available.
The amount of money the university will get for meeting one out of five goals in its most recent evaluation will depend on money appropriated by the legislative session that began last week.
Leroy Wade, deputy higher education commissioner, said that the performance funding process in Missouri is similar to one that states across the country have used as a reward for public campuses.
“It provides the state a mechanism to set up some incentives to encourage institutions to do certain things that address goals that have been set by the state for degree attainment, or improving retention, those kinds of things,” Wade said.
The process is designed to affect only funds that are appropriated in addition to a school’s base budget, though Wade said it could possibly cut more deeply than that.
In the case of Harris-Stowe, Wade noted recent turnover at the top. In 2014, Warmack replaced Albert Walker, who served just two years in the position. Prior to Walker, Henry Givens was president for 32 years.
“It’s an institution that’s kind of in transition,” Wade said. “They’re making a lot of changes there, to try to address some of the challenges that they face. And some of those changes may have had impacts that I would say were unanticipated. I don’t think it’s necessarily a reflection of the problems at the school or the things that they’re doing aren’t the right things.”
He noted that performance funding is “backward looking,” based on three-year rolling averages, so it may not be fair to compare the results of one year to the one before it.
“As schools make changes into the future,” Wade said, “sometimes those don’t translate as you might hope they would into that performance funding right away. I think that situation will turn around as we move on into the next couple of years, but in the short term that’s the impact of it.”
Coming up short
Besides meeting the performance measure of increasing the percentage of freshmen who completed 24 academic hours, Harris-Stowe fell short in degree attainment, improvements in assessments in students’ major fields, financial responsibility and efficiency and fund raising.
Warmack said this year’s freshman class brought a stronger grade point average from high school than those in the past. And he cited new partnerships with other universities, such as a cooperative program with Washington University in occupational therapy announced last week, as well as collaboration with Ningbo University in China as evidence that the school is creating new opportunities for its students.
In response to recent seven-figure discrimination settlements awarded to former employees at Harris-Stowe, Warmack said the school has named a new chief diversity officer to concentrative on equitable treatment of everyone on campus.
He refutes any notion of low morale on campus and said that the discrimination allegations occurred before his arrival.
“My focus,” he said, “has been on leading this institution and going in a direction that is meaningful to ensure that our students who are here have the best experience possible.”
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