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Published in Print: October 9, 2002, as Report: College Preparation Better, But Access Falling

Report: College Preparation Better, But Access Falling

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Many states have made noticeable strides since 2000 in preparing students for college, according to a biennial report card on states' higher education efforts.

But at the same time, it says, students' access to higher education has declined because college has become less affordable since the first such report was issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education two years ago.

Fifteen states improved their grades for preparing students for college through their K-12 education systems. Those states had success because they offered more upper-level mathematics and science courses, according to the report, "Measuring Up 2002," released by the San Jose, Calif.- based center last week.

Meanwhile, the report's authors lowered the nation's overall grade on college affordability from a C-minus to a D. Most states had trouble in that category because of revenue shortfalls, steep tuition increases, and what the report characterizes as insufficient investments in student financial aid. California bucked the trend and scored an A because of its tuition program for disadvantaged families, the report says.

"States are forced to spend money on mandatory things like prisons and Medicaid, so colleges get less appropriated to them," said Robert H. Atwell, the president emeritus of the American Council on Education, a Washington- based association for universities and colleges. "Colleges raise tuition. Then families can't afford the tuition."

Low Political Profile

Aside from college preparation and affordability, the report grades states in three other areas: the percentage of state residents enrolled in higher education; the percentage who complete their degrees or other educational goals; and what the report terms "benefits," a grab bag of social and financial indices.

When students get into college, can they complete their degrees? No more than 70 percent of full-time students complete a degree within six years of enrolling in college in any state, the report says.

Though 42 states went up a grade in at least one category since the first report, no state received straight A's. All 50 states dropped a grade in at least one category. The grading was based on data from the federal government and private institutions.

The center, whose board is chaired by former Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, receives funding through foundations. Virginia B. Edwards, the editor and publisher of Education Week, is a member of its board.

Higher education advocates say they hope the report will put higher education on the radar screen in the upcoming elections.

"The whole report is addressed to state policymakers; it is not for institutions," Mr. Atwell said. "It's amazing to me that higher education isn't more of an election issue."

Vol. 22, Issue 6, Page 5

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