September 12, 2011 | last updated April 3, 2012 1:18 pm

Briefing: Performance Incentive Fund

Earlier this month, Gov. Deval Patrick announced the first grants to Massachusetts public colleges and universities from the Performance Incentive Fund, a total of $2.5 million.

What is the money for?

The Performance Incentive Fund was created earlier this year to help public colleges and universities launch new programs to help high school students get ready for college and help college students succeed. The fund, included in the fiscal 2012 budget, is part of the state's Vision Project, which aims to improve graduation rates, reduce disparities in educational outcomes among students from different backgrounds and align educational programs with workforce needs.

Why is the funding significant?

The Boston Globe reports that this is the first time in decades that the state has given money to higher education institutions based on their plans for academic programs rather than just on how many students they enroll. The shift parallels the state's increasing focus on performance in its high schools. Education Secretary Paul Reville has compared the grants to the federal Race to the Top program, which used competitive grants to push states to make specific types of changes in their education systems.

What schools got pieces of the funding?

Eighteen of the 29 public colleges and universities in the state got some of the money. Ten of the recipients are community colleges.

What Central Massachusetts schools are being funded?

Worcester State University will receive $233,417 for several initiatives, including collaborations with Quinsigamond Community College and Fitchburg State University and a Teaching Corps Program aimed at Latino students. Quinsigamond is getting $180,471 to support high school and college students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Framingham State University is receiving $59,100 to redesign lower-level STEM classes to draw more students into those disciplines.

What improvements is the state focused on most?

Of the 18 institutions receiving funding, 16 of their proposals focused at least partly on improving graduation rates. That's especially important for community colleges. According to the Globe, only 20 percent of students in associate degree programs graduate within three years, making Massachusetts 40th in the nation in graduation rates for that group.

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