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Front Page » October 28, 2004 » Local News » Independent organization grades Utah's higher education p...
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Independent organization grades Utah's higher education programs

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Higher education in Utah received an A in preparation, a C+ in participation, a C in affordability, a B in completion and a B in benefits on the Measuring Up 2004 report card.

Prepared by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the rfeport card is compiled by an independent, non-partisan organization.

The purpose of the nationwide report card is to stimulate public policies that will improve the effectiveness and accessibility of higher education.

All 50 states are graded on critical dimensions of college opportunity and effectiveness, from high school preparation through bachelor's degree programs.

In 2004, a 10-year retrospective was added to the criteria to assess changes in a state's performance since the early 1990s, according to the independent organization.

The study does not assess the quality or prestige of particular colleges or universities.

"Rather, it gauges the educational health of the population of each state in terms of five categories of college opportunity and achievement," pointed out organization representatives James Hunt and Garrey Carruther.

In the preparation category, the survey asked how well high school students are being prepared to enroll and succeed in college-level work.

Utah schools earned the state's only A in the category. Nationwide, 44 states improved in the category. Six states improved on some indicators and no states declined in all areas.

In the participation category, the survey asked if young people and working-age adults have access to education and training beyond high school.

Utah received a C+ in the category. Nationally, eight states improved in the area. Twenty-three states improved in some indicators and 19 states declined in all areas.

In the completion category, the survey asked whether students persist and complete certificate and degree programs. Utah colleges received a B. Nationally, 37 states improved on more than half the indicators, nine states improved on some of the indicators and four states declined on every indicator.

In the affordability category, the survey asked how difficult it is to pay for college in each state when family income, the cost of attending college and student financial assistance is taken into account? Utah colleges received a C. Nationally, two states improved on more than half the indicators, 31 states improved on some of the indicators and 17 states declined on every indicator.

In the benefits category, the survey asked how does the workforce-trained and college-educated residents contribute to the economic and civic well being of each state? Utah colleges received a B. Nationally, 41 states improved on more than half the indicators, eight states improved on some of the indicators and one state declined on every indicator.

Overall, 25 states received no A ratings on any of the five categories. Fourteen states received one A (Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and Virginia), seven states received two As (California, Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Washington), three states received three As (Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey) and one state received four As (Massachusetts).

"The information contained in Measuring Up 2004 should stimulate state, national, and educational policy leaders to meet a fundamental goal: assurance that coming generations of Americans will have the benefits that we and earlier generations have enjoyed," writes Callan.

While the survey offered many examples of states that have improved performance over the past decade, some of the findings are not encouraging.

Compared to a decade ago, more high school students are enrolling in courses that prepare them for college, including eighth grade algebra and upper-level math and science. More students are taking and performing well on advanced placement exams, and more are taught by qualified teachers.

Although a large number of high school students are better prepared for education or training beyond high school, these gains have not translated into higher rates of enrollment in higher education. There have been real but modest gains in rates of associate and baccalaureate degree completion, but participation in college and completion of degrees remain among the weakest aspect of performance.

Pervasively dismal grades in affordability show that for most American families, college is less affordable now than it was a decade ago. The rising cost of attending college has outpaced the growth in family income. Although financial aid has increased, it has not kept pace with the cost of attendance.

"Every state should reexamine college tuition and financial aid policies, and each should formally link future tuition increase to gains in family income. In the meantime, the conclusion from Measuring Up 2004 is clear: The vast majority of states have failed to keep college affordable for most families," Callan wrote.

The nation's gaps in college participation between affluent and poor students have widened. The college-going gaps between whites, African-Americans and Latinos persist.

In viewing the statistics, CEU president Ryan Thomas said he had concerns.

"While Utah, overall, is average or above in most categories, one of the aspects of the study that is of concern to me, is that the overall rate of participation in higher education does not appear to be increasing in Utah. In fact, among some under served populations, including racial minorities, the study indicates that the state may be losing ground. Part of this can be explained by looking at the changing demographics of the state, since there has been an increase in the percentage of minorities in the state. However, one of the important challenges for the state is to ensure that these incoming populations are given access to higher education at rates that will ensure that they receive the full-economic benefits that education can provide."

In a press release issued by the Utah System of Higher Education, Utah Commissioner Richard E. Kendell also had some comments about the study.

"It is heartening to see that in this important national report, in every case but one, Utah's grades have improved or stayed the same. Given the economic and budget climate of the past few years, this is a credit to those who work so hard to provide quality higher education throughout the state of Utah."

"Not surprisingly, the one place where our grade dropped is in the area of affordability," stated Kendell. "Undoubtedly this is because of the tuition increases of the past few years - raised mostly to make up some of the gap in what was available from the legislature during difficult budget times. Utah has not been alone in this phenomenon, as is evident from the fact that the 'C' grade we were given actually ties for the second best in the nation. In contrast, 47 states received an 'F', 'D' or 'D-' grade."

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