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Report Card Details Higher Education Performance

September 22, 2004

A state-by-state report card indicates that improvements in college preparedness have not resulted in commensurate gains in college participation or completion rates over the past decade. The implications of underperformance in higher education highlighted in the report prompted calls for reform by leading education policy experts.

The report, "Measuring Up 2004," was released last week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. It gauges five categories of college opportunity and achievement both on a national scope and for each of the 50 states. These categories are: preparation; participation; completion; affordability; and benefits. States are graded using quantifiable standards in these areas and by comparing to performance achievements in other states. The 2004 report card is the third biennial of its kind, but for the first time includes a 10-year retrospective of performance changes.

At a symposium of higher education leaders and experts last week, participants expressed dismay at the longitudinal findings of the analysis. Former governors James B. Hunt Jr. and Garrey Carruthers, now with the authoring center, called the results a "wake-up call" for the nation.

Specifically, the report card indicates troubling declines in the areas of college participation, completion rates, and affordability. In the area of participation, 19 states indicated declines in every indicator used for assessment, while only eight states experienced improved on more than half of the indicators. Similarly, 17 states declined in every indicator of affordability and only two states improved on more than half of the indicators. New Mexico, for example, received two F's one in the area of preparation, the other for affordability. Massachusetts, on the other hand, received all A's, except in the area of affordability, where it received an F.

A subsequent analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education assigned an overall "grade-point average" to states, with each category weighted equally. The top states were Massachusetts, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, and Maryland. The state that scored lowest using this assessment was Nevada, followed by Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, and Mississippi.

Full details about the analysis, including individual state reports, may be obtained from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's  Web site.