Virginia's higher education council adopted standards last week by which the state will judge public colleges under a new law that gives the schools financial and operational benefits for meeting performance goals.

The Institutional Performance Standards contain measures for Virginia's 15 four-year institutions, 23 community colleges and two-year Richard Bland College. Under the restructuring law, schools would become eligible for greater financial and administrative flexibility if they meet the benchmarks.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia will submit the standards to be incorporated into the state budget. The council was scheduled to adopt standards on Sept. 13 but deferred the action while its staff revised the guidelines after receiving more input from college presidents, the state secretaries of education and finance and from economic development officials, said Daniel J. LaVista, executive director of the higher education council.

The council will employ the standards in determining whether colleges and universities are certified under the higher education restructuring law. Performance targets will be agreed on by the council and the schools.

The schools would be rated on 20 measures, including providing accessible and affordable education; improving student retention and graduation; producing graduates who can fill the state's employment needs; maintaining and improving academic quality and efficiency; developing agreements that ease enrollment and transfer from two-year schools and high schools; boosting privately funded research; working with elementary and secondary schools to improve student success; and working with state officials to stimulate economic development.

To achieve certification, colleges would have to meet or exceed minimum performance standards on all measures and would have to show progress toward established targets on 14 of 17 measures for two-year schools, 15 of 18 measures for four-year non-research schools, and 17 of 20 targets for four-year research institutions.

Also, they could fail no more than two measures in any given goal area.

Some university officials said they were pleased that the standards will measure for the first time the admission and graduation rates of transfer students, a large component of the student bodies at Old Dominion, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth universities.

"It's a more accurate look at what all the schools are doing, not just the traditional schools," said John R. Broderick, Old Dominion's vice president for institutional advancement and admissions.

Also under the restructuring legislation, each school was to produce a six-year operating plan Oct. 1. Schools will undergo an annual certification review each October and will be required to update their operating plans every two years.