Executive Summary1

Over the past century, American higher education has evolved dramatically: once a privilege reserved for the elite, it has become a requirement for the majority. As a result of its new status in the knowledge economy, higher education has entered an era of great opportunity and tremendous responsibility. The nation's social and economic health now hinge on the ability of its colleges and universities to educate many more Americans to a far higher standard than ever before. The business community can play a pivotal role in helping American higher education meet this challenge.

Businesses that undertake higher education improvement initiatives can draw on an invaluable new resource: state-by-state assessments of higher education performance published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. In late 2000, the National Center released Measuring Up 2000, the first in a revolutionary series of state-by-state report cards for higher education. The second edition, Measuring Up 2002, was released in October 2002.

Like its predecessor, Measuring Up 2002 has assigned all 50 states letter grades for their performance in five categories deemed essential to the quality of higher education in each state: preparation, participation, affordability, completion, and benefits. All 50 states have received "Incompletes" in a sixth category-learning-because the absence of comparable data on what students actually learn in college has prevented the National Center from making meaningful state-by-state comparisons.

Armed with these report cards, business leaders, educators, policy makers, and the general public in any given state can for the first time gain a broad overview of how well their state's higher education system is performing relative to higher education in other states. More to the point, the report cards provide data that can support targeted strategies for change. Where such data are unavailable, the report cards can help business make a strong case for better data collection and disclosure. Moreover, by releasing a new report card every two years until at least 2006, the National Center will create both an incitement to necessary action and an opportunity to track the effects of such action over time.

On a more fundamental level, business leaders, policy makers, and educators can use the report cards to transform the way we judge the quality of higher education. For years, proponents of American higher education cited the merits of particular elite institutions as the measure of the entire higher education system's quality. Measuring Up, by contrast, judges the quality of America's higher education system on how well it serves the increasingly diverse educational needs of all Americans, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic condition, age, or employment status. At a time of unprecedented demand for postsecondary education and training, Measuring Up 2002 has revealed that our higher education system as a whole is not adequately meeting these diverse needs.

This Business Leader's Guide to Measuring Up 2002 aims to help the business community use the report card series to align its efforts around coordinated strategies for improving the quality and accessibility of higher education. The report cards promise to help the business community gain both a common understanding of current needs and a shared vision of future goals. In doing so, they raise the standards for improvement: while valuable in their own right, business-led initiatives that produce only anecdotal successes will do little to affect overall performance at the state level.

This Guide therefore calls for substantial business engagement in higher education initiatives aligned around three guiding principles:

  • Initiatives should address problems on multiple fronts.

  • Initiatives should have the potential to benefit many different businesses.

  • Initiatives should have the potential to benefit all Americans.

These principles inform this Guide's nine strategies for establishing higher education improvement initiatives (see sidebar). Given the growing demand for knowledge and skills, such initiatives have become more urgent than ever.

1 Several brief passages in this guide have been liberally adapted from Roberts T. Jones, "Facing New Challenges: The Higher Education Community Must Take the Lead in Addressing the Dramatic Pace of External Change," in National CrossTalk 10 (3), summer 2002 (San Jose: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education).