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US Chamber Report Makes Case for Higher Education Reform

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released the third edition of its Leaders and Laggards series, A State-by-State Report Card on Public Postsecondary Education. The report examines public colleges and universities in all 50 states, including four-year and two-year institutions, and is designed to provide an in-depth evaluation of data and a careful analysis of postsecondary performance and policy across states. 

“With tuition growing, debt loads increasing, students questioning the marketplace value of their degrees, and large amounts of taxpayer dollars invested, the business community and the public are starting to ask questions of policymakers and higher education leaders,” said President of ICW and former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. “This report begins to look at how states are doing in preparing students for jobs after college and the value state taxpayers are getting in meeting the demands of local economies and employers.” 

For the first time, Leaders and Laggards grades postsecondary institutions in the following six areas: 

  1. student access and success
  2. efficiency and cost-effectiveness
  3. meeting labor market demand
  4. transparency and accountability
  5. policy environment
  6. innovation

The findings are sobering. Statewide completion rates at four-year public colleges typically hover around 50 percent and attrition is costly at a time when public and private resources are scarce. In fact, 33 states spend more than $50,000 in education and related expenses to produce a credential at a two-year college. In addition, while the need for skilled workers with high-quality postsecondary training has never been higher, most states have not developed the means to measure the quality of their programs—just 22 states have the ability to track the success of graduates once they enter the labor force and make those data public. Only four states allow students and taxpayers to compare labor market outcomes across both institutions and programs. 
However, the news is not all troubling. Several states including Florida, Texas, and Minnesota have emerged as national leaders on certain measures. This is not just a story of the “best” higher education systems getting better. Some of the most innovative policy agendas have developed in states with low rates of student success, which is heartening evidence that policymakers and postsecondary leaders are actively and intentionally confronting the challenges they face. 




“I think the results help illuminate that some state systems are doing a far better job of graduating students with the dollars they’re spending, and that too few states are providing students, families, and taxpayers with the information they need to make good choices or hold higher education institutions accountable,” added Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which conducted research for the report. “With tuition rising at three times the rate of inflation, we want to work with the business community to ensure that students who invest in their education learn the knowledge and skills necessary to enter an increasingly competitive global workforce.” 

The Chamber is urging policy makers, the business community, and educators to craft a reform agenda that promotes transparency to the public, demands better data on performance and improved measurement of student outcomes.   

To view the report and compare state results online, visit the ICW website.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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