Last fall, the National Center released Measuring Up 2000, the first state-by-state report card on higher education-grading each state's performance related to education and training beyond high school through the baccalaureate degree. Grades in the report card are based on a set of quantitative indicators in five key categories: preparation for college level work; participation in postsecondary education and training by the young and by working age adults; affordability; degree and certificate completion; and state economic and civic benefits.
These five categories are areas that have a crucial impact on college and life opportunities and are susceptible to influence by state policy. Grades are assigned in each of these categories by comparing each state's performance to that of the highest performing state. In a sixth area, learning, all states are assigned an "Incomplete," for they-and we-lack information on the educational performance of college students that would allow systematic state and national comparisons.
We designed Measuring Up 2000 as a catalytic and analytic tool for state and higher education leaders and for public understanding of higher education issues, and we are gratified by the attention that the report has received in the national, state and local media. Few higher education news stories-outside the sports pages, of course-have been as extensively covered in recent times.
The media attention was critically important, for the report card was designed and intended to reach a broad public audience, and it did. It was designed and intended to reach the state policy and higher education communities, and it did. Some among these audiences have criticized or expressed reservations about various aspects of the report card, but most of this criticism has been constructive and generally supportive of the policy directions suggested by its findings.
One finding-the major finding, we believe-is particularly critical as a direction for state and higher education policy leaders: Measuring Up 2000 clearly indicates that higher education's benefits are unevenly and often unfairly distributed; they simply do not reflect the distribution of talent, whether across states or within them. Despite the major accomplishments of higher education in America, geography, wealth, income and ethnicity still play far too great a role in determining the opportunities that Americans have to prepare for, enroll in, afford and complete college.Take, for example, Illinois, one of the few states with the highest grades in three of the five graded categories. Even in this high performing state, 97 percent of high-income 18-to-24 year olds have a high school or GED diploma, compared with 62 percent of those with low incomes. In every state, there is room for improvement.
However gratifying the headlines have been, they are yesterday's news. The continuing value of the report card and its media attention will now be tested as the focus shifts to each state. What is needed now is vigorous debate, informed by data and analysis specific to each state. The strengths and weaknesses of higher education opportunity must be explored in the context of individual states, as must be the public policies that address them. The fundamental issues raised by Measuring Up 2000 are not technical ones about data and statistical analysis-informed criticism of these will be reflected in the next two report cards. The crucial issue is about the responsibilities and performance of states in assuring the opportunity to prepare for higher education and to benefit from it.
We are confident that all states seek to improve citizens' opportunities for education and for socially and economically productive lives. Some states are now embarked on improvement of these opportunities, others plan to do so, and each will face unique demographic, economic and political factors.
We are equally confident that policy leaders in most states can find ways to use Measuring Up 2000 as a tool to stimulate, strengthen and support those efforts. But our report card is only a tool, and of value only when used. Neither Measuring Up 2000 nor any other report can create policy leadership that recognizes and embraces an agenda of inclusive opportunity. Where such leadership is lacking, the report card will indeed be yesterday's news. But effective leaders can and will use Measuring Up 2000 and other relevant reports to accomplish public purposes.
For our part, the National Center recognizes the need to move forward on the policy agenda, and to continue to improve our ability to measure, evaluate and compare state higher education performance. Discussion and debate are needed on both fronts. Future editions of the state report card, Measuring Up 2002 and Measuring Up 2004, will, we expect, reflect progress along both lines.
To initiate and stimulate both conversations, we have solicited the reactions of a number of educational and political leaders to Measuring Up 2000.Their responses comprise part of the special supplement to this issue of National CrossTalk. Your comments on Measuring Up 2000 and this supplement will be welcome. We are committed to continuing this discourse, and are planning a number of forums and other opportunities for comments, criticisms and suggestions.
- Patrick M. Callan -