The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education “promotes public policies that enhance Americans’ opportunities to pursue and achieve high-quality education and training beyond high school.” The organization also “prepares action-oriented analyses of pressing policy issues facing the states and the nation regarding opportunity and achievement in higher education-including two- and four-year, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit institutions.” I have cited their Measuring Up reports in previous blog postings as well as utilized some of their published data in my research. The next, and possibly last, Measuring Up report may be issued this fall or early next year.The Measuring Up reports grade each of the 50 states in the following performance categories: Preparation, Participation, Affordability, Completion, Benefits, and Learning. Letter grades ranging from A to F as well as an I for Incomplete are issued. Additionally, the report card provides an indicator arrow for each of the grades to indicate how the state has performed over time relating to the category. The letter grades are clearly designed to catch the attention of policymakers and others who may not take the time to analyze the relevant underlying data utilized by the Center to create the grade.
All of the above performance categories are relevant to my personal area of interest for higher education research, student retention and degree completion. Grades issued to the states on a macro basis for these categories may be relevant for evaluating performance at an institutional level, particularly for institutions whose enrollment draws heavily from a single state.
In March of 2009, NCPPHE issued a report entitled “The Challenge to States: Preserving College Access and Affordability in a Time of Crisis.” The report was written by the Center, but its content was guided by a group of influential thought leaders in higher education policies. The report was issued shortly after passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Stimulus Act) and the report encouraged states to set priorities and spend the one-time federal funds wisely.
There were five Principles that the report encouraged policymakers, governing boards, and leaders to honor as they adjusted their budgets for both the economic impact of the recession as well as the application of stimulus funds for higher education. These principles were:
- Establish undergraduate access and affordability as the highest priority for state higher education policy and support.
- Protect access. All eligible students seeking to enroll at two-and four-year public institutions should be accommodated by institutions that can meet their needs.
- Preserve the educational safety net by prioritizing enrollment capacity and affordable tuition at broad access institutions serving students from low- and middle-income families.
- Expect measurable productivity increases in education, both immediate and long-term, at all institutions. Do not micromanage the process, but insist on accountability for resource use and performance from governing boards and institutional leaders.
- Use one-time revenues, including federal stimulus funds, to protect access and affordability and to leverage improvements in productivity, efficiency, and quality. Avoid using one-time revenues in ways that defer productivity improvements or create long-term dependencies that may exacerbate future financial problems.
The report provided specific recommendations in the areas of Capacity, Finance, and Productivity. It concluded by stating that “The issues of how America will finance higher education in the 21st century will require a new framework and consensus among taxpayers, public officials, state and federal government, and students and families. But in the immediate crisis, the leadership of governors, legislatures, and governing boards is critical. They must devise and implement strategies to preserve college opportunity while stimulating innovations to prepare for a future that will require enhanced access, quality, cost-effectiveness, and productivity.”
I decided to write about this report because of the current discussions in Congress and in the press about higher education. The Measuring Up 2010 report will be issued this year and given California’s financial crisis, all 50 states will more than likely receive an F in affordability (California’s grade in 2008 was C-, the only state with a passing grade in affordability but one in which the trend was downward).
The Measuring Up 2008 report provided constant dollar figures showing the increases since 1982-84 in the United States in the Consumer Price Index (106%), Median Family Income (147%), Medical Care (251%), and College Tuition and Fees (439%).
The data in Figure 5 of the report was used to demonstrate in subsequent tables how the increases in college tuition and fees had outpaced family income and other costs to create a situation where a college education was essentially unaffordable for members of the lowest two quintiles of family income. The Measuring Up reports provide additional data from time to time. It will be interesting to see if this year’s report provides any commentary related to the March 2009 Challenge to States report. Based on many of the articles that I read regarding state higher education financial challenges, I doubt that many states followed many of the principles and recommendations in the report. Given that President Obama has recommended another stimulus act for colleges, perhaps recommendations from this report could be utilized as guidelines for dispensing further funds otherwise as a country, we will continue to expand the gap of access and affordability in higher education for many of our citizens.