Report card shows some gains in preparing children for college

Like many student report cards, the national 50-state report card on higher education issued last week has its sour notes – and a few performances to crow about.

It was the second time that five key college-going factors were rated on a state-by-state basis by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The report card measured preparation for college, participation, affordability, college completion, and benefits accrued by graduates and society as a whole. It was in the area of preparing children for college that the nation improved the most.

PREPARATION: In New Mexico, for example, the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who had completed high school rose from 79 percent to 83 percent. Only four states, however – Maine, New York, Tennessee, and Virginia – improved in all measures in the category, which includes K-12 student achievement and completion of upper-level courses.

PARTICIPATION: Despite some gains, improvements in college participation lagged behind preparation. Still, there were high points. In Louisiana, the percentage of high school freshmen entering college within four years rose to 35 percent from 31 percent, while in Oklahoma it rose to 37 percent from 35 percent. Across the country, 40 to 50 percent of high school freshmen completed high school and then enrolled in college.

AFFORDABILITY: Nationwide, 11 states improved their college affordability as measured by such factors as the percentage of income needed to pay for college, minus financial aid, state grant aid targeted at low-income families, the share of income that poor families needed to pay to attend lowest-priced colleges; and average loan amounts. California outdistanced every other state, the only one to receive an A for its efforts.

On the downside, however, much of the progress in affordability may have been reversed in recent months as tuition hikes and cuts in state aid have hammered public institutions, the report said.

COMPLETION: Just five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and Utah) did better on improving timely completion of college degrees. In Alabama, for instance, degree completion rose to 24 completions per 100 undergraduate students, up from 18. No state saw more than 70 percent of full-time students complete their degrees.

BENEFITS: This category is measured by tracking college graduates to see whether income increased, along with other measures such as voting levels, charitable contributions, and literacy.

California, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Delaware, and Maine all got an A – while West Virginia got an F. Eight states, including Missouri and Arkansas, got D's.

LEARNING: All states received an "incomplete" grade because none had any systematic means of measuring what is actually learned in college.

"As a nation, we are doing better in preparing our young people for college than we are doing in assuring that they have opportunities to enroll in and complete programs of education and training beyond high school," says Patrick Callan, president of a San Jose, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that produced the report. "This is reflected in the number of mediocre grades and the very modest improvements" in the new report.

For more information on the report, go to: http://measuringup.highereducation.org

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