New study grades states’ efforts at higher education

By ARLENE LEVINSON

Associated Press

The old real estate adage "location, location, location" turns out to be crucial to whether someone earns a college degree, according to a new study that evaluates higher education state-by-state.

The state where you grew up and in which you live is paramount to your prospects for education past high school, followed in importance by your family resources and race and ethnicity, say the authors of Measuring Up 2000. The first-of-its-kind study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonpartisan think tank in San Jose, Calif., was released Thursday in Washington, D.C.

"Whether you’re going to be prepared to go to college, whether or not you’ll have the opportunity to enroll, whether or not you can afford to enroll, and whether you’ll complete a degree … depends on which state you live in and the policies that state has on higher education," said Joni Finney, a policy analyst who directed the project.

In addition, the study found that in every state, poor people and minorities fared the worst in getting a higher education.

"White folks are doing much better than other groups," Finney said.

The states were not ranked or compared. Instead, each received a grade of A through F in five areas: preparing schoolchildren for college; participation of residents ages 18 to 44 in college or other training; affordability of college; how promptly college students finish degrees; and economic and social benefits to the state as a result of its residents’ levels of education.

No state got straight A’s.

Washington state received a C+ for preparation; a C- for participation; a B- for affordability; a B- for promptness; and a B+ for benefits to the state.

The ideal state, by the study’s reckoning, would prepare students for college as well as Utah does, reach the post-secondary enrollment rate of Delaware, offer higher education as affordable as California’s, and see two- and four-year degrees completed as diligently as they are in New Hampshire.

Such a place might then match Maryland, the top state in terms of highly educated residents earning good incomes, and displaying high levels of civic involvement and charitable giving.

Each "report card" was based on broad statistics for each state, largely from the Census Bureau and the Education Department. The most recent figures were from 1998 and included all learning after high school — vocational and technical schools as well as two- and four-year institutions. It did not look at specific schools.

States should check out where they didn’t score well, said Henry Levin, a professor of education and economics at Columbia University’s Teachers College. "I would ask why. And I would ask what is happening in a state that has high ratings. Is there something we could learn from that?"

The study focused on the states because of their role in education, whether financing public universities or grants to private colleges. States determine policy and spending on public universities and colleges, where 78 percent of undergraduates enroll, the report said. And they provide about 29 percent of support for all public and private colleges.

Among overall top scorers was Massachusetts, which got an A or A- in all but affordability, which merited a D. Illinois got three As, but a B- for benefits to the state and C+ for degree completion.

West Virginia’s grades were among the poorest: three in the D range, C for completion rate and an F in benefits for the state.

The study’s authors started from the assumption that Americans now need more education than a high school diploma.

"As we enter the 21st century, the clear signal from the new economy is that education and training beyond high school are now prerequisites for employment that can support a middle-class lifestyle," North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said in a forward to the report as chairman of the center’s board.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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