The National Center
The Value of a Report Card
Goals of the Report Card
Description of the Report Card
State Higher Education Policy
About the National Center

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IN THE UNITED STATES, the states bear the primary public responsibility for higher education. They help to determine who qualifies for college by providing oversight of the public school system. They provide most of the direct financial support to -- and oversight of -- public colleges and universities, and significant support to private ones (through student financial aid as well as direct appropriations). They determine the organizational structures of public higher education, can shape the relationships between higher education and the public schools, and can encourage coordination between private and public higher education. Through these and other means, states are responsible for ensuring that qualified high school graduates and the many workers who need retraining will have ample opportunity for education and training beyond high school -- at affordable prices. And states are enriched by these investments: states with highly educated populations reap economic, cultural, and civic benefits.


  • Seventy-eight percent of American college students are enrolled in public colleges and universities, institutions created by and financially dependent upon state governments.1

  • States provide 46 percent of the financial support for public colleges and universities and approximately 29 percent of the total support for all public and private colleges and universities.2

  • State and local appropriations for higher education exceed $57 billion annually (1998-99 data). 3

  • State financial aid for students at public and private colleges and universities exceeds $3 billion annually (1997-98 data).4

Meanwhile, significant societal and economic transformations are sharply increasing the pressures states face as they seek to provide educational opportunities beyond high school. Most importantly, for the first time in our history, Americans who aspire to a middle-class standard of living are virtually required to have education and training beyond high school. Between 1977 and 1997, the average income of high school graduates decreased 4 percent in real dollars, while the income advantage associated with having a college degree instead of only a high school diploma increased by 28 percent in real dollars.5 In a global marketplace transformed daily by developments in technology, worker productivity and other areas, nearly every American worker who seeks job stability or advancement is expected to pursue ongoing training. Given the growing importance of higher education in providing opportunity, states bear an ever greater responsibility for ensuring that the nation's gateways to success -- our colleges, universities and training centers -- are accessible for all qualified and motivated Americans.

As higher education has become more important, the college landscape has changed. The current generation of high school graduates is far more heterogeneous in ethnicity, age, financial resources, and academic preparation than any in our history.6. Technology is transforming not only how we work, but also how we teach and learn; whether technology can enhance quality and access and reduce cost remains an open question with enormous policy implications.7 With college tuition increasing much faster than the rate of inflation, it has become more difficult for Americans to afford college.8 And in order to meet a host of other important state needs -- such as K-12 education and health care -- states are experiencing increased pressures in paying their historic portion of college costs. During the 1990s, the share of state budgets devoted to higher education decreased from 15 to 13 percent, and states shifted the primary burden of paying for college to students and their families: the share of college revenues paid for by states decreased from 35 to 29 percent, while the share paid for by tuition charges increased from 31 to 36 percent.10 As states look to the next decade, over half are projecting significant increases in the number of high school graduates.11

Given the increased pressures that states face in providing Americans with opportunities to seek education and training beyond high school, it is crucial that state policy leaders have access to useful comparative information about their state's performance in higher education -- public and private, two- and four-year. State leaders have access to comparative data in a host of other areas over which they bear responsibility, including economic trends, children's health and K-12 education. But currently there is no publicly available, comprehensive, comparative information on state performance in higher education.

To assist state policy leaders in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of higher education performance in their state, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education is developing a state-by-state report card that compares and evaluates each state's performance in higher education. The goal of the report card -- and of the National Center generally -- is to stimulate the creation of state policies that enhance opportunity and achievement for all Americans who aspire to higher education.

This prospectus briefly outlines the key elements of the report card.



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