Why Measuring Up?

The Measuring Up report card series offers business the first large-scale, detailed picture of how well American higher education is meeting external demands. More to the point, the report cards provide data that can support targeted strategies for change. In presenting such information, the report cards can serve as invaluable tools for galvanizing and aligning business initiatives to improve higher education at the state level.

Measuring Up 2002 comes at a crucial time: faced with an unprecedented need for more highly educated employees, businesses can no longer be content with programs that produce anecdotal success in isolated institutions. By assessing statewide performance in higher education, Measuring Up 2002 focuses attention squarely where it belongs: on the educational opportunity states provide to all of their residents. In doing so, it adopts a broad definition of higher education as "all education and training beyond high school, including all public and private, two- and four-year, nonprofit and for-profit institutions."13 By using the report card as a guide, businesses can focus their energies on the kinds of initiatives that promise to benefit the greatest number of people across any given state.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE STATES

By directing the business community's attention to the state level, moreover, the report cards can help business to apply its efforts where they can have the most immediate impact. States hold a central responsibility for setting public policy on higher education. They exercise a pervasive influence on the funding levels of public and private institutions; eligibility requirements for financial aid; the statewide mix of available educational programs; the respective missions and academic concentrations of their various public institutions; and a host of regulations on important matters of institutional governance. As the first report card has revealed, every state's higher education system has distinct needs for improvement. Each successive report card promises to help business remain attentive to how state policies can address these particular needs.

THE URGENCY OF ACTING ON THE REPORT CARD'S FINDINGS

The results published in Measuring Up 2002 underscore the urgency of bringing business leaders to the table with educators and policy makers in a concerted effort to improve the performance of their state's higher education system. The report card demonstrates that American colleges and universities continue to fall short of current expectations. No state excels in all the report card's performance categories, and in fact many perform poorly across the board. At a time when both personal and national prosperity depend more than ever on the equitable distribution of educational opportunity, we cannot allow access to high-quality learning to remain an accident of birth or geography.

By shining a light on the six performance categories, Measuring Up can help the business community target areas of particular concern. Taken together, preparation, participation, completion, and affordability determine how many students will reach high levels of postsecondary achievement. The benefits category measures the intellectual capital businesses can draw on as they strive to remain competitive in a global economy. Finally, the learning category addresses an issue of central importance to the business community: because skill requirements are changing at an accelerating rate, employers need more reliable and descriptive measures of what students actually learn in college. As technology and global competition raise the stakes of each hiring decision, business simply cannot rely on formal credentials as a surrogate for knowledge and skills.

The absence of comparable data on student learning outcomes prompted the National Center to assign all 50 states an "Incomplete" in the learning category. Given the importance of clearly communicated learning outcomes, this lack of data gives business special cause for alarm. It also provides a compelling case for action.

THE NEED FOR DATA-DRIVEN IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES

Such deficiencies in data reveal a great deal about the limits of current efforts to improve higher education for all Americans. Without reliable and widely comparable data on higher education's performance, policy makers cannot evaluate needs for improvement or effect necessary changes. Business, therefore, has a vital interest in redressing the report card's deficiencies in data, as well as in acting on performance data currently available.

Businesses commonly use data to drive improvements in their own products, services, or organizational practices. The process of such data-driven improvement strategies has become familiar: use data to identify a problem; design targeted strategies for improvement; implement those strategies; collect data on their effectiveness; and make appropriate adjustments on the basis of these new data.

As vocal proponents of reform in elementary and secondary education, business leaders have long insisted on the importance of such a process to any strategy for improving American schools. Due in part to the business community's efforts, data collection and disclosure have become central to the sweeping elementary and secondary education reforms set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act, which became law in November 2001.

The National Center's report cards have begun to meet a similar need for data collection and disclosure in higher education, while highlighting areas in which the states must collect better, more complete data. By gauging state performance every two years, moreover, the report cards enable each state to track the progress of their own improvement efforts.

Because statewide assessments of higher education will not register token improvements in a single area or institution, Measuring Up has raised the bar for new higher education initiatives. While the report cards can serve as an essential tool for improving the educational opportunities for all Americans, they will realize their greatest value only if the business community joins forces with educators and policy makers to effect far-reaching improvements.



13 Measuring Up 2002, 20.

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