MEASURING UP 2000 EARNS NATIONAL ATTENTION
STATE-BY-STATE REPORT CARD PRAISED AND CRITICIZED
By William Trombley, Senior Editor
SEVERAL STATES are preparing to use Measuring Up 2000, the
50-state higher education “report card” published by the National
Center for Public Policy and Higher Education last fall, as part of their
efforts to press for policy changes, interviews with higher education
officials in a dozen states indicate.
“We are rather shamelessly exploiting the report card for our own
purposes,” said Gordon K. Davies, president of the Kentucky Council on
Postsecondary Education. “The performance indicators in the report
card are very close to those we are using.”
Davies hopes that Measuring Up 2000 will help the council devise
strategies to increase the number of Kentuckians who pursue education
beyond high school, and to begin to think about postsecondary educa-tional
opportunities as a whole, not just in terms of traditional two-year
and four-year degrees.
In Oklahoma, state officials plan to use Measuring Up to further the
goals of the state’s “Brain Gain 2010” campaign, an effort to increase
Oklahoma’s rather low college participation rate. The report card notes
that about 35 percent of Oklahoma high school freshmen are enrolled
in college within four years, compared to a national average of 54 per-cent.
This earned the state a C in participation, one of five categories
graded in Measuring Up.
In late January, the Oklahoma State Regents and the Knight Higher
Education Collaborative held a two-day “roundtable” in Oklahoma City
that focused on the report card findings and efforts to increase the
state’s college-going rate.
“We view the report as an opportunity to get key decision-makers
together to work on some of our weak areas,” said Ruth Ann Dreyer,
vice chancellor of the Oklahoma system.
In Missouri, the annual Governor’s Conference on Higher Education
in early December focused on Measuring Up, with Joni E. Finney, vice
president of the National Center, as a participant.
“The National Report Card is only one, rather broad assessment of
higher education in Missouri but it is a valuable tool for pointing out
areas where we need to improve,” Governor-elect Bob Holden told the
conference. “For example, Missouri is below the national average of
those going on to college. That must change. Our new-century econo-my
demands that Missourians are ready to compete, and more educa-tion
and training will give them that edge.”
Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center, said he was grat-ified
by the initial response to Measuring Up 2000.
“This is a long-term, challenging agenda for the states,” he said.
“We’re pleased to see so many states already using the report card as
part of their strategies for improvement.”
Not everyone was happy about this first attempt to evaluate nation-al
higher education performance on a state-by-state basis.
Chancellor Stephen Portch of the University System of Georgia,
questioned the D+ his state received in affordability, saying it should
have been A+ because of Georgia’s much-copied HOPE Scholarship
program, which pays full college tuition and fees for all high school
graduates with a B average or better.
(For more on this point, see Portch’s article on page 7A of this spe-cial
supplement to National CrossTalk, and the explanation of Georgia’s
affordability grades that appears in a “Q and A” on page 2A.)
Several state officials complained that the report used “old data,”
and claimed their states had made significant progress since the information
was collected that formed the basis for the report card’s grades.
Callan and other Center staff members who worked on Measuring
Up said most of the information came from 1998, the most recent year
for which reliable public data for all 50 states were available.
Another criticism was that the report contained little that was new or
“If I had to say one thing that sums up” what higher education offi-cials
in southern states think of the report, it would be, “this only con-firms
what we already know, and we’re already working on it,” said
Mark Musick, president of the Southern Regional Education Board. “So
the question now is, ‘How does the Center push the ball downfield?’”
Callan said he did not expect Measuring Up 2000 to come as star-tling
news to state higher education leaders, who should be well aware
of conditions in their states. But he expressed hope that the report card
will help states build on their strengths and correct weaknesses.
That is the way Texas is planning to use the report. “We consider the
report card to be strong outside verification of what Texas is already
doing,” said Don Brown, the state’s commissioner of higher education.
“It points to the areas we need to strengthen.”
James S. Clarke, deputy commissioner for higher education in
Louisiana, said Measuring Up will be helpful even though the state
received F grades in both participation and preparation, and these
grades produced what Clarke called “some pretty unfavorable head-lines”
around the state.
“We think it provides a good entrée for us in the Legislature,” Clarke
said. “It will be helpful in persuading legislative committees what must
be done to solve some of these problems.”
New Mexico plans a “New Mexico-specific” follow-up to the report
card, according to Bruce Hamlett, executive director of the New Mexico
Commission on Higher Education. This will be a collaborative effort
involving the commission, the New Mexico Business Roundtable for
Educational Excellence and the National Center.
Hamlett said the goal of this six-to-nine-month project is to produce
a plan that will enable New Mexico to build on the strengths, and
improve the weaknesses, that were identified in Measuring Up. The
state received a B in affordability, a B- in participation, a C in benefits, a
D- in completion and a D- in preparation.
The Illinois Board of Higher Education converted the report card’s
letter grades to numbers and concluded that Illinois’ 88.8 was the high-est
score in the nation. (Connecticut was second, at 88.2, and New
Jersey third, at 88, according to these calculations.)
Illinois received A’s in preparation, participation and affordability but
only a C+ in completion, which means the state has had only mediocre
success in making sure students complete their degree programs. The
Board of Higher Education is expected to appoint a commission of cam-pus
presidents, representing two- and four-year institutions, public and
private, to study that problem.
The National Center had hoped to grade states in a sixth category—
student learning—but found the data lacking for most states and decid-ed
to give each state an “Incomplete” in this area.
“The decision not to award a letter grade in student learning is the
right one because there are no common benchmarks that would allow
meaningful state-to-state comparisons,” Peter Ewell, a senior associate
at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems,
wrote in Measuring Up 2000.