A Philosopher's Blog

Race & Performance Based Funding

Posted in Race, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on August 24, 2015

Florida, like some other states, has imposed performance based funding on its state universities. The basic idea is that each state school is evaluated by ten standards and then the schools are ranked. The top schools are rewarded and the bottom schools are punished.

As a runner and a professor, I certainly get the idea of linking rewards to performance. As a runner, I believe that better performance merits the better awards (be it a gold medal, a fat stack of cash, or a ribbon). As a professor, I believe that performance merits the better grades and that poor performance merits the corresponding lower grades. However, I also recognize the importance of fairness.

In the case of running, a fair race requires that everyone must compete on the same course and under the same conditions. The age and gender of the runners is also taken into account when assessing performance and there are even age-graded performance formulas to take into account the ravages of time.

In the case of grading, a fair class requires that everyone is required to do the same work, receives the same support from the professor, and that the assessment standards are the same. Fairness also requires that special challenges faced by some students are taken into account. Otherwise, the assessment is unjust.

The same applies to performance based funding of education. If the goal is to encourage better performance on the part of all the schools, the competition needs to be fair. Going with a classroom analogy, if a student knows that the class is rigged against her, she is not likely to be motivated to do her best. There also seems to be an obvious moral requirement that the assessment be fair and this would require considering the specific challenges that each school faces. Laying aside the normative aspects, there is also the matter of accuracy: knowing how well a school is performing requires considering what challenges it had to overcome.

While all the schools operate within the state of Florida and face similar challenges, each school also faces some special challenges. Because of this, a proper and just assessment of a schools performance (how well it does in educating students, etc.) should reflect these challenges. To simply impose standards that fail to consider these challenges would be unfair and would also yield an inaccurate account of the success or failure of the school.

Consider the following analogy: imagine, if you will, that the Pentagon adopted a performance based funding model for military units using various standards such as cost of operations, causalities, how well the units got along with the locals and so on. Now imagine that the special challenges of the units were not properly considered so that, for example, a unit operating in the deserts of Iraq fighting ISIS was assessed the same way as a unit stationed in Kentucky. As might be imagined, the unit in Iraq would certainly be assessed as performing worse than the unit stationed in Kentucky. The unit in Kentucky would presumably cost less per person, have far fewer causalities, and get along much better with the locals. As such, the unit fighting ISIS would find itself in funding trouble since its performance would seem rather worse than the unit in Kentucky. Of course, this approach would be irrational and unfair—the unit fighting ISIS might be performing extremely well relative to the challenges it faces. The same, it would seem, should hold for schools. Turning back to performance based funding, I will consider the relevant standards and how they are unfair to my school, Florida A&M University.

Florida A&M University is an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and is still predominantly African-American. The school also prides itself on providing educational opportunities to students who have been denied such opportunities as well as those who are first generation college students. Put roughly, we have many African-American students and a large number of students who are burdened with economic and educational baggage.

As I have mentioned in a previous essay, FAMU fared poorly under the state’s standards. To be fair, we honestly did do poorly in regards to the state’s standards. However, there are the important questions as to whether the standards are fair and whether or not the assessment of our performance is accurate.

On the one hand, the answer to both questions can be taken as “yes.” The standards apply to all the schools and the assessment was accurate in terms of the results. On the other hand, the answer is also “no”, since FAMU faces special challenges and the assessment fails to take these into account. To use a running analogy, the situation is like comparing the true 5K times of various runners. This is fair and accurate in that all runners are using their 5K times and the times are accurate. However, if some runners had to run hilly trails and others did their 5Ks on tracks, then the competition would not be fair. After all, a slower 5K on a hilly trail could be a much better performance than a 5K on a track.

To get directly to the point, my claim is that FAMU faces the special challenge of racism and the legacy of racism. This, I contend, means that FAMU is being assessed unfairly in terms of its performance: FAMU is running hills on a trail while other schools are enjoying a smoother run around the track. In support of this claim, I offer the following evidence.

One standard is the Percent of Bachelor’s Graduates Employed and/or Continuing their Education Further. A second is the Average Wages of Employed Baccalaureate.  The third is the Six Year Graduation Rate and the fourth is the Academic Progress Rate (2nd Year Retention with GPA Above 2.0). These four break down into two general areas. The first is economic success (employment and wages) and the second is academic success (staying in school and graduating). I will consider each general area.

On the face of it, retention and graduation rates should have no connection to race. After all, one might argue, these are a matter of staying in school and completing school which is a matter of personal effort rather than race.

While I do agree that personal effort does matter, African-American students face at least two critical obstacles in regards to retention and graduation. The first is that African-American students are still often victims of segregation in regards to K-12 education and receive generally inferior education relative to white students. It should be no surprise that this educational disadvantage manifests itself in terms of retention and graduation rates. To use a running analogy, no one would be surprised if the runners who were poorly trained and coached did worse than better trained and coached runners.

The second is economic, which ties directly into the standards relating to economic success. As will be shown, African-Americans are far less well off than other Americans. Since college is expensive, it is hardly surprising that people who are less well-off would have a harder time remaining in and completing college. As I have discussed in other essays, the main (self-reported) reason for students being absent from my classes is for work and there is a clear correlation between attendance and class performance. I now turn to the unfairness of the state’s economic success standards.

While I do not believe that the primary function of the state university is to train students to be job fillers for the job creators, I do agree that it is reasonable to consider the economic success of students when evaluating schools. However, assessing how much the school contributes to economic success requires considering the starting point of the students and the challenges they will face in achieving success.

To be blunt, race is a major factor in regards to economic success in the United States. This is due to a variety of historical factors (slavery and the legacy of slavery) and contemporary factors (persistent racism). These factors manifest themselves quite clearly and, as such, the relatively poor performance of African-American graduates from FAMU is actually what should be expected.

In regards to employment, the University of Chicago conducted a study aimed at determining if there is racial bias in hiring. To test this, the researchers responded to 1,300 job advertisements with 5,000 applications. They found that comparable resumes with white sounding names were 50% more likely to get called for an initial interview relative to those with more African-American sounding names. The researchers found that white sounding applications got call backs at a rate of 1 in 10 while for black sounding names it was 1 in 15. This is clearly significant.

Interestingly, a disparity was also found in regards to the impact of experience and better credentials. A white job applicant with a higher quality application was 30% more likely to get a call than a white applicant with a lower quality application. For African-Americans, the higher quality application was only 9% more likely to get a call than a lower quality black application.

This disparity in the hiring process seems to help explain the disparity in employment. For whites, the unemployment rate is 5.3% and it is 11.4% for blacks. As such, it is hardly surprising that African-American students from FAMU are doing worse than students from schools that are mostly white.

Assuming that this information is accurate, this means that FAMU could be producing graduates as good as the other schools while still falling considerably behind them in regards to the employment of graduates. That is, FAMU could be doing a great job that is getting degraded by racism. As such, the employment assessment would need to be adjusted to include this factor. Going with the running analogy, FAMU’s African-American graduates have to run uphill to get a job, while white graduates get to run on much flatter course.

In addition to employment, a graduate’s wages is also one of the standards used by the state. FAMU fared poorly relative to the other schools here as well. However, this is also exactly what should be expected in the United States. The poverty rate for whites is 9.7% while that for blacks it is 27.2%. The median household wealth for whites is $91,405 and for blacks $6,446. Blacks own homes at a rate of 43.5% while whites do so at 72.9%. Median household income is $35,416 for blacks and $59,754 for whites. As such, it would actually be surprising if African American graduates of FAMU competed well against the statistics for predominantly white schools.

It might be contended that these statistics are not relevant because what is of concern is the performance of African-American college graduates and not the general economic woes of African-Americans. Unfortunately, college education does not close the racial wealth gap.

While the great recession had a negative impact on the wealth of most Americans, African-Americans with college degrees were hits surprisingly hard: their net worth dropped 60% from 2007 to 2013. In contrast, whites suffered a decline of 16% and, interestingly, Asians saw a slight increase. An analysis of the data (and data going back to 1992) showed that black and Hispanics had more assets in housing and more debts and these were major factors in the loss of wealth (the burst of the housing bubble crashed house values). In terms of income, researchers take the main causes of the disparity to include discrimination and career choices. In addition to the impact on salary, this wealth disparity also impacts retention and graduation rates. As such, the state is right to focus heavily on economics—but the standards need to consider the broader economic reality as well.

It is reasonable to infer that the main reason that FAMU fares worse in these areas is due to factors beyond the control of the school. Most of our students are black and in the United States, discrimination and enduring historical factors blacks do far worse than whites. As such, these poor numbers are more a reflection of the poor performance of America than on the performance of Florida A&M University. Because of this, the standards should be adjusted to take into account the reality of race in America.


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19 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 24, 2015 at 9:03 am

  2. ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 11:56 am


    One thing you didn’t mention was average black IQs. It’s easy to talk about racism without dealing with actual race realities.You can continue to keep pouring resources and excuses into blacks for a thousand years and nothing will change. If anything things have gone backwards. Please correct me if I am wrong, I don’t even live there so what would I know for sure…but that’s what it seems to be. Offshoring of your manufacturing capacity by your elites has hit working class whites and blacks the hardest.

    Perhaps the only real permanent answer is what I proposed awhile ago, give them a couple of states, say in the south, a few hundred $bil, build a wall around it, put them all in it and leave them to it. No more ‘racism’, no more oppression by whitey, they can build their own social and political structures and express their innate black genius. No more resentment between the races just mutual respect and trade. What is not to like about that?

    This core issue is IMO really white pathological altruism, bending over backwards for people who ultimately despise them.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 24, 2015 at 2:05 pm

      I think Trump might have a job for you.

      • ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 2:38 pm


        Just stating the obvious. The only difference is that I am not quite as guilted as most americans.

        I find it very amusing how you lot self flagellate when someone calls a black a nigger yet they can call each other that all day long………..and call whites crackers and honkies and you don’t bat an eyelid. That says to me that you can’t have an honest discussion about race with that level of psychological programming and will just keep going in circles.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 25, 2015 at 6:00 pm

          There is certainly debate about whether blacks should be using that word or not. Some people argue that no one should use it; others (as you say) think that it is okay for blacks to “own” the word.

          I don’t use it, mainly for the same reason I don’t use words that tend to needlessly provoke and insult people.

  3. TJB said, on August 24, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    The irony is that blacks were doing comparatively better in the 1950s before anybody tried to “help” them.

    I would be willing to bet that the education provided by FAMU in 1955 was far more rigorous than the education provided by FAMU today.

    • ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 3:23 pm


      “The irony is that blacks were doing comparatively better in the 1950s before anybody tried to “help” them.”

      That was my completely unsupported impression too. But now there’s a whole industry ‘helping’ them and things are going backwards….

    • ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 3:40 pm


      Oh, and something else…..here’s an article suggesting that slavery in the US is vastly overhyped and possibly actually quite benign, at least in relation to the standards of the times and also in relation to slavery in other places ie. Africa and the Middle East.


      So if, as the article suggests, that slaves were often better off than (freeish)blacks remaining in Africa or poor whites in the US…….what reason is there for any guilt whatsoever(leaving aside the validity of collective guilt)?

    • wtp said, on August 25, 2015 at 11:59 am

      Mike pegged it yesterday. Y’all are racists, just like Trump.

      • WTP said, on August 25, 2015 at 12:53 pm

        Much like this lady:

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 25, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      How were blacks generally better off in the 1950s?

      As far as rigor goes, that varies greatly even between individual faculty. For example, some professors are well known for having really difficult classes with relatively high failure rates. Others are known for being easy to pass.

      But, I suspect that rigor in education has declined over the years, mainly because K-12 has gotten worse. We are getting the damage from the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, so we often need to get students up to where they should have been in high school. Obama did say he wanted to fix things; but mostly he did not. A new coat of paint and a change of name doesn’t change what is in the school.

      • TJB said, on August 27, 2015 at 5:56 pm

        I chose my words carefully. I said “comparatively better” because the gaps between white and black America (income, unemployment) were much smaller than they are today.

  4. nailheadtom said, on August 26, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Two things about your post:

    1. “African-American students are still often victims of segregation in regards to K-12 education and receive generally inferior education relative to white students.”

    Are you channeling Karl Marx? Everyone, even African-Americans, are individuals, not members of some class or even race. Some are good students, some are not. Moreover, the student doesn’t “receive” an education, they “get” one. In a large measure, individuals, even African-Americans, are individually responsible for acquiring the knowledge that they need for future success.

    2. Maybe the concern for African-American students is a good thing, an example of beneficient altruism. If so, why are native Americans ignored in this regard? Since the founding of the country, there’s been a continuous national concern over the plight of black Americans, before and after the War Between the States. In fact, while that war was ostensibly being fought to free them, US soldiers were engaged in killing native Americans and taking their real estate. Not even in the south were blacks faced with organized warfare from any government. While the slaves were freed by constitutional amendment in 1868, native Americans weren’t granted citizenship until 1923, There are a couple of colleges that seem to be willing to give a break to native American students but there are no Historically Native Colleges. Instead, native youth are students in inferior high schools on reservations that occupy the least desirable land in the country. Their graduation rate is low and few are encouraged to further their education. I’m sorry, but the plight of the American blacks, whatever it might be, is of little note in comparison to that of the native Americans. Blacks in the US have been a political football for over 200 years, natives are simply ignored.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 27, 2015 at 10:24 am

      1. No. While people are obviously individuals, it can be useful and accurate to generalize about populations. For example, it is true that women live longer than men, but is is also true that some men live longer than some women. So, while there are African-Americans who are great students and others who are poor students, African-Americans taken as a group generally attend inferior schools relative to the general population of whites. Naturally, there are some African-American students who attend schools that are better than those attended by some whites.

      2. Yes, the US Government was awful to the natives, including my own ancestors. Yes, little has been done in response to this, aside from those casinos.

      • nailheadtom said, on August 27, 2015 at 5:46 pm

        “African-Americans taken as a group generally attend inferior schools relative to the general population of whites.”

        From an empirical standpoint that’s a meaningless statement. However, it seems to be a common viewpoint. When people say that they want their children to go to a “good school” what they really mean is that they want them to go to one with a minimum of brown people. How they might measure the quality of the school in other ways is a mystery. Maybe a successful football team or a fancy building.

        “Yes, the US Government was awful to the natives….”

        So that’s it? Where’s the essay on how the natives have been and continue to be hosed by Uncle Sam? In the order of bad treatment African-Americans, a fringe member of whom is the most important elected official in the land, don’t even approach that of native Americans. Yet the daily constant worry is if things will ever be “fair” for the blacks while the one-time owners of the entire country are sequestered away in impoverished backwaters after having been literally hunted down and often murdered. Let’s get the priorities in order. There ain’t no Comanche Oprah Winfrey and there isn’t an Ojibwa Thurgood Marshall.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 27, 2015 at 5:56 pm

          It seems to be meaningful. After all, we can create a frame for defining school quality and then use statistics to sort out who attends which schools.

          True, natives do not enjoy the popularity and power of other minorities. While there are seemingly endless media stories about the injustices faced by African-Americans, natives only get mentioned very rarely. While I do not want to engage in a “victim off”, this does raise a point of concern.

          I did write about this very issue: http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=446http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=446

  5. […] longer a factor, then one might say “mission accomplished.” Unfortunately, as I discussed in my essay on performance based funding and race, race is still a significant factor in regards to economic and academic success. As such, while the […]

  6. […] longer a factor, then one might say “mission accomplished.” Unfortunately, as I discussed in my essay on performance based funding and race, race is still a significant factor in regards to economic and academic success. As such, while the […]

  7. Akia Sembly said, on November 15, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Interesting you decide to go with the hill metaphor when FAM is pretty much all hills. What gets me about turning higher education into a fight, aside from the from the stupid criteria, is the apparent assumption that withholding funds is some kind of solution, as if the school is going to be inclined/able to do more with less. What does the board expect to accomplish by underfunding one of its major universities?

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