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The Report Card Is In. How Do States "Measure Up"?

September 19, 2006

As higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to address concerns of college costs, 43 out of 50 states “flunked” the affordability category in a report issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The report,  “Measuring Up 2006: The National Report Card on Higher Education,”  assigns the United States and individual states grades that reflect how well they do in the following areas: preparation, participation, affordability, completion, benefits, and student learning. States are “graded” on a typical A to F scale on their performance in each area, affordability being by far the most dismal category this year.

Descriptions and highlights of each of the study’s six categories are shown below.

Preparation: (Top-performing state in this category: Massachusetts)
To determine how adequately each state prepares its students for education and training beyond high school, the study looked at scores received by 8th graders on national math, reading, and science examinations.  Another indicator used was the percentage of 9th graders graduating from high school in four years. Forty-five states have improved on more than half the indicators in the preparation category since the early 1990s, although there are still large disparities in preparation by race and income.

Participation: (Top-performing state in this category: New Mexico)
The participation category, which determines if state residents have sufficient opportunities to enroll in education and training beyond high school, is judged by the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college, as well as the percentage of 9th graders who enroll in college upon graduation from high school. The study found that the nation as a whole has made no significant progress in postsecondary participation in the past 15 years, and that matriculation to the postsecondary sector still varies greatly by race, ethnicity, and income.

Affordability: (Top-performing state in this category: Utah)
Two primary indicators are used to determine the affordability of postsecondary education for each state: (1) the percentage of annual family income needed to pay net college costs and (2) state support of need-based financial aid compared with federal support. The report showed that the nation’s colleges and universities have become considerably less affordable since the early 1990s. Even after all financial aid is taken into account, students and their families must devote an increasing share of their income and borrow more to pay for a year of college education. As stated earlier, the report card “flunked” 43 of 50 states, and no state received an “A” or “B” grade.

Completion: (Top-performing state in this category: New Hampshire)
This category highlights the progress that students make toward completing their certificates or degrees in a timely manner.  One method used to determine this category is to tally the certificates, degrees, and diplomas awarded per 100 undergraduate students enrolled.  The report claims that modest gains have been made in the proportion of students completing degrees and certificates but that the United States compares very poorly with other countries in this category.  

Benefits: (Top-performing state in this category: Massachusetts)
This category focuses on the economic benefits that states receive from having a highly educated population. The primary indicators in this category include: the percentage of adults (ages 25 to 65) who have a bachelor’s degree or higher and the increase in their total personal income resulting from having a bachelor’s degree.  Most states have increased their “educational capital” since the 1990s.

Learning: This is a new category that is in a “pilot” stage of the report; and, therefore, no grades were allotted.  However, nine states (Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, and South Carolina) were awarded “pluses” for developing learning measures.

For more information on this study and to see how your state was graded, the report, “Measuring Up 2006: The National Report Card on Higher Education,” is available at no cost on the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s Web site.