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Measuring Up 2000, the first state-by-state report card on higher education performance, gave all 50 states an Incomplete in the category of learning. Although Measuring Up evaluated, compared, and graded the states in other key categories of higher education performance (including preparation for college, participation, completion, and affordability), the report card found that "there is no information available to make state-by-state comparisons" of higher education's most important outcome, learning. The primary purpose of the Incomplete was to stimulate a more robust discussion and debate about what states should know about college-level learning.

Shortly after the release of Measuring Up 2000, an invitational forum of public policy, business, and education leaders was convened by James B. Hunt Jr., governor of North Carolina, and hosted by Roger Enrico, vice chairman of PepsiCo, at the PepsiCo corporate headquarters in Purchase, New York. The purpose of the forum was to advise the National Center on next steps to address the issue of student learning at the state level. The forum recommended that the National Center begin by using information already available on college outcomes as the building blocks of a model to collect comparative state-by-state information on learning. Forum participants urged the National Center to move ahead with a "demonstration project" to determine whether or not it was feasible to collect information on learning at the state level that would be useful to state policy leaders.

The National Center was fortunate to enlist the help of Margaret Miller, professor at the Curry School of Education, to lead the National Forum on College-Level Learning, a five-state demonstration project to develop a model of college-level learning for the states. Peter Ewell, vice president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), was the senior consultant to the project. The Pew Charitable Trusts supported the project through a grant to the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL).

The most recent edition of the report card, Measuring Up 2004, included a brief summary of the results of the demonstration project. This report provides a more comprehensive account of the project, its findings, and conclusions, as well as information that will be useful to states that may wish to replicate the model. The report concludes that providing comparative state-by-state information about learning outcomes is not only feasible, but also important and useful for policy.

The model described in this report enables states to gather information that addresses two critical questions:

  1. What is the "educational capital," or the knowledge and skills of the population, that states have available to them for developing or sustaining a competitive economy and vital civic life?

  2. How do all the colleges and universities in the state (that is, public, private, not-for-profit, and for-profit) contribute to the development of the state's educational capital?
This approach is different from asking or requiring individual colleges and universities to assess or evaluate student learning. Colleges and universities can and should be accountable for assessing student learning and reporting results, but the measures used by individual institutions may not add up to a comprehensive assessment of educational capital for the state as a whole. The statewide approach, as shown by the demonstration project, allows comparisons among states, providing information about a state's relative standing to the rest of the nation in developing the knowledge and skills of its population.

In a knowledge-based global economy, the fortunes of states depend on the knowledge and skills of their residents. The demonstration project has shown that states can assess their educational capital feasibly and effectively to provide useful information for policymakers and educators in identifying problems and stimulating and targeting improvement. State leaders are urged to participate in similar efforts to expand their state's understanding of the knowledge and skills of their residents in order to enhance the economic and civic vitality of their state.

Patrick M. Callan
National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education


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