By James B. Hunt Jr.
Chairman, National Center's Board of Directors

Since 2000, the Measuring Up report cards have evaluated the progress of the nation and all 50 states in providing Americans with education and training beyond high school through the bachelor’s degree. In their totality, the five editions of the national and state report cards constitute the most extensive assessment ever of the educational performance of American higher education. Our purpose in the Measuring Up series is to assist the nation and the states in improving higher education opportunity and effectiveness.

As in the earlier editions, Measuring Up 2008 focuses exclusively on results, outcomes, and improvement. State performance is evaluated, compared, and graded in six key areas:

  • Preparation for college: How well are high school students prepared to enroll in higher education and succeed in college-level courses?
  • Participation: Do young people and workingage adults have access to opportunities for education and training beyond high school?
  • Affordability: How difficult is it to pay for college when family income, the cost of attending college, and student financial aid are taken into account?
  • Completion: Do students persist in and complete certificate and degree programs in college?
  • Benefits: How do college-educated and trained residents contribute to the economic and civic well-being of each state?
  • Learning: How do college-educated residents perform on a variety of measures of knowledge and skills?

In assessing state and national progress in these areas, Measuring Up places the performance of American higher education in a global perspective by incorporating international comparisons wherever possible.

The purpose of providing grades, comparisons, and indicators is to encourage each state to measure its own higher education outcomes against the best performance nationally and internationally. As in past editions of Measuring Up, the grades compare each state against benchmarks established by the best-performing states in each area in the current year. The grades give each state and the nation “real world” standards of comparison. In addition, selected indicators in the state report cards track improvement over time by comparing the performance of each state against its own past performance.

As a governor and a leader and participant in educational reform at all levels, I have learned that good intentions are not enough. It is critical that high aspirations for educational improvement be reinforced by monitoring key indicators of progress. The public, education leaders, elected officials, and business and civic leaders must know where we are making headway, where we are stalled, and where we are regressing. Each state’s education system is unique, of course. But every state, I believe, can benefit from using Measuring Up to monitor its higher education performance in relation to other states, as reflected in grades, and to assess progress as reflected in the change-over-time indicators.

This edition of Measuring Up highlights the uneven distribution of higher education opportunity and achievement in the United States. Family wealth and income, race and ethnicity, and geography play too great a role in determining which Americans receive a high school education that prepares them for college, which ones enroll in college, and which ones complete certificate or degree programs. Demographic changes and the pressures of a knowledge-based global economy are already transforming our nation and our states. In facing these early challenges of the 21st century, we must address our educational disparities if we are to achieve a workforce that is competitive internationally and a citizenry that can enhance our democratic institutions.

The core message of Measuring Up 2008 is that despite our historical successes in higher education, the preeminence of many of our colleges and universities, and some examples of improvement in this decade, our higher education performance is not commensurate with the current needs of our society and our economy. Our nation and our states can do better. As we have done many times in this nation’s history, we must reach higher. We must educate more young people and adults, so that more Americans have the college-level knowledge and skills they need to succeed.