A Challenge to States

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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.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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