Research group gives state education high marks

by Erin Ghere

According to a report released Thursday, Minnesota higher education is in good shape.
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent research group, released the findings of the first-ever attempt to grade all 50 states on their higher education offerings.
Minnesota received A’s for affordability and civic and economic benefits to the state, but earned a C+ for getting high schoolers ready for college. The state received a B- for the number of high school graduates who attend higher education institutions and a B+ for the number that complete a bachelor’s degree.
No state received straight A’s and most states earned C’s, with several states getting failing grades in affordability.
The C+ in preparation was given to Minnesota because, although a high percentage of Minnesotans earn a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) diploma before age 24, most high school students do not take high-level college-prep math or science courses, according to the report.
Minnesota was a top performer in affordability, financial aid to low-income families and students’ low reliance on debt to pay for higher education, the report said.
When compared with top states, Minnesota ranks well.
Ninety percent of 18- to 24-year-old Minnesotans had a high school credential, compared with 93 percent in top ranking states. Forty-six percent of Minnesota high school students enrolled in a college or university, compared to 54 percent in the top states.
The average loan amount that students borrowed each year in Minnesota was $3,168, compared with $3,094 in other states. And 50 percent of first-time, full-time students completed a bachelor’s degree in five years, compared with 66 percent in the rest of the country.
Minnesota is home to 49 four-year and 66 two-year schools.
As with most studies of its kind, critics have raised questions about its validity.
All evaluations of this kind use numbers that are two or three years behind, said Bob Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost.
Critics also say the study doesn’t consider all of the factors behind the numbers.
“The people who deal with this data need to put it in the proper context and avoid broad generalizations,” said Constantine Curris, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. For instance, he said a five-year graduation rate ignores part-time students that take longer to graduate.
For its part, Bruininks said the University has placed an emphasis on undergraduate education throughout the 1990s, including requests for funding of study abroad, research opportunities, smaller class sizes, career advancement and other learning opportunities.

— The Chronicle of Higher Education contributed to this report.