Location Tied to Success In Higher Ed.

By John Gehring — December 06, 2000 5 min read
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Where students go to high school determines in large part how prepared they will be to succeed in college and graduate with a degree, according to a first- of-its kind, state-by-state report card on higher education released last week.

In Alabama, for example, fewer than one-third of the high school students take an upper-level math class, compared with more than half the students in Nebraska. In California, 18- to 24-year-olds are nearly twice as likely to be enrolled in higher education as their peers in Nevada.

Those are among the findings detailed in Measuring Up 2000: The State-by- State Report Card for Higher Education, written by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent, nonpartisan organization based in San Jose, Calif.

For More Information

The report, Measuring Up 2000, is available from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

The report issues letter grades for each state in five areas: how well students were prepared for college, the percentage of students in the state participating in higher education, the affordability of higher education, the percentage of enrolled students completing college, and the economic and civic benefits a state gained from its college graduates. While some states did clearly better than others, none earned straight A’s.

“Despite the accomplishments of American higher education, its benefits are unevenly and often unfairly distributed and do not reflect the distribution of talent in America,” Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, the chairman of the national center’s board of directors, said at a Nov. 30 press conference here. “Geography, wealth, income, and ethnicity still play far too great a role in determining the educational life chances of Americans.”

‘Extraordinary Endeavor’

The report is intended to give policymakers and educators an objective assessment of their higher education systems, along with a yardstick to compare their systems with those of other states.

“This is exactly the kind of information that can help mobilize improvement in a state,” Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at the news conference. He called the report “an immeasurable contribution to American education.”

Gov. James B. Hunt Jr.

Measuring Up 2000 defines higher education as all education and training beyond high school, including all public and private two- and four- year institutions. States provide most of the public financial support for colleges and universities—some $57 billion in 1999, according to the report—and often influence tuition for public colleges along with setting financial-aid standards, the report notes.

Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College, Columbia University, said he expects the report to make a significant impact in public-policy and higher education circles. “It is an extraordinary endeavor. I expect this to be taken very seriously,” Mr. Levine said in an interview last week. “The power of this report is that it’s so comprehensive.”

But perhaps most interesting about the report, he said, is what it does not say. All states received an “incomplete” for their performance in student learning in college because there are no common benchmarks in that area that would allow meaningful state-to state comparisons.

The report does not include specific recommendations for how states could improve in the categories measured, but it does highlight “states to watch” and successful policies they have adopted.

In South Dakota, for example, the board of regents of the South Dakota University System in 1995 began holding roundtable discussions with business leaders, K-12 officials, and state policymakers to address ways to raise the number of students attending college and improve their access to financial aid.

“One of the mistakes is the notion that this report is just about higher education,” said Stephen Portch, the chancellor of Georgia’s state university system. “It is also about the connection between K- 12 and postsecondary education. You can’t do it alone. It is about the continuum of education.”

Despite receiving a D-plus in preparation and affordability, and an F in participation, Georgia is also highlighted in the report as a state to watch because of “sweeping changes” that Mr. Portch has made in the system.

Georgia’s Hope Scholarships, financed by a state lottery, provide full tuition and fees at public campuses and $3,000 toward tuition and fees at private institutions for state high school students who graduate with at least a B average. The scholarships, which began under former Gov. Zell Miller’s administration, have been a model for other merit-based financial-aid programs around the country.

Charles Reed, the chancellor of the California State University System, also acknowledged the need to improve the connections between the precollegiate and postsecondary systems. His state received a C- minus in preparation and a C in completion.

Mr. Reed has asked the faculties in his 23-campus system to increase their effort to work with K-12 schools so higher standards are aligned with expectations for admission into state colleges and universities. “In California, we have major work to do in helping the public schools,” he said. “We have to redouble our efforts.”

Income Disparities

The report card was well-received in Illinois, the only state that earned three A’s in the categories of preparation, participation, and affordability. “We have had a commitment to high-quality and affordable education in Illinois for a long time,” said Keith R. Sanders, the executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

But like other states, Illinois has gaps in its performance when it comes to lower-income groups and minorities. While 54 percent of the state’s 18- to 24-year-olds from high- income families enroll in college, only 20 percent from poorer families do so. And for every 100 Hispanic students enrolled in college in Illinois, nine receive a degree or certificate, compared with a rate of 16 per 100 for non- Hispanic whites. The state received a C-plus for completion.

Among other findings in the report:

•The nation as a whole has made significant improvement in the percentage of high school students taking upper-level mathematics and science classes. In Arkansas, 140 percent more students are now taking upper-level math classes than were doing so a decade ago.

•North Dakota leads the nation in the percentage of 18-to 24-year-olds who have earned a high school diploma or high-school-equivalency credential (95 percent), and Oregon ranks the lowest (75 percent).

•While Illinois has the best record in providing financial aid to low-income students, Alaska and South Dakota provide no state financial aid targeted to poor students. The average student in Massachusetts must borrow almost $5,000 a year to attend college, some $2,000 more than the average student loan in Minnesota.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education plans to publish at least two more editions of the report, in 2002 and 2004.

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2000 edition of Education Week as Location Tied to Success In Higher Ed.

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