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September 15, 2004


SPRINGFIELD - Illinois has continued to rank in the top tier of states in a national report card on higher education from the National Center of Public Policy and Higher Education.

The National Center today released Measuring Up 2004, its third report card grading states on five major indicators of performance. Illinois' grades are:

B+ Preparation for college
A Participation in college
D Affordability
B Degree completion
B- Benefits of higher education to the state

Illinois' overall grade point average places it eighth among the 50 states. Three states -- Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey -- share the top spot. Illinois was among five states receiving a "plus" in learning because it participated in a pilot project to measure learning outcomes. All others received an "incomplete."

"We're delighted that Illinois' system of higher education continues to score well in this independent assessment of state performance," said James L. Kaplan, Chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education. "The 2004 edition of the national report card in particular validates our work in making college access a high priority and our efforst to improve getting students through college with a degree in hand."

Kaplan said he was disappointed in a sharp fall of the affordability grade, from a B in 2002 to a D this year, but noted that all states declined in that measure. No A's were awarded in affordability, and 36 states flunked the category.

"College affordability has been and will continue to be a high priority with the Board of Higher Education and the higher education commuity," Kaplan said. "Finances should not keep any Illinoisan from pursuing a college education."

The National Center is an autonomous higher education think tank and policy center located in San Jose, California. It undertook the report card project to highlight state performance in key areas of public policy.

Illinois' B+ for preparation was the same as two years, down from an A in Measuring Up 2000, the initial report card. The report card uses such factors as high school completion, K-12 course-taking patterns, K-12 student achievement, and the percent of secondary students taught by a teacher with a major in the subject. The National Center report noted that the state had made progress over the past decade in preparing students for college. It said that 8th graders performed well on tests of math and reading but poorly in science. It also pointed out that Illinois is the top performer in the proportions of 11th and 12th graders scoring well on college entrance exams.

In participation, Illinois' grade has been a consistent A over the three report cards, although the National Center stated that there had been a decline in performance over the decade. "This year," the National Center stated, "Illinois is one of only nine states to receive an A in participation." The participation grade measures young adults and working-age adults enrolled in college. Illinois ranks among the leaders in enrolling working-age students in college.

The grade for degree completion rose slightly from a B- in 2002 to a B this year; it was a C+ in 2000. The grade measures such criteria as persistence of freshmen to their sophomore year, graduation rates within six years, and the number of degrees and certificates awarded. The National Center found that Illinois had made progress over the past decade in degree completion, and cited in particular the high persistence rate of students returning for their second year of college.

The benefits grade has held at B- for all three editions of the report card. It measures educational achievement, economic benefits, civic benefits, and adult skill levels. The National Center noted that Illinois "residents contribute substantially to the civic good, as measured by charitable giving and voting." And it said that Illinois has a fairly high proportion of residents with bachelor's degrees, although it does not reap as much in economic benefits as other states.

The affordability grade has experienced a steady decline from 2000 when the state received an A. The grade fell to a B in 2002 and to a D in the latest report card. It measures family ability to pay for college, state investment in need-based financial aid, and student reliance on loans. The National Center states that, compared to other states, Illinois' investment in need-based financial aid is high, but that the share of income needed to cover college expenses also is large compared with other states.

Chairman Kaplan pointed out that the state and Board of Higher Education have taken steps to protect affordability including truth in tuition legislation, level funding for the need-based Monetary Award Program, and comprehensive recommendations presented last year by the Committee on Affordability, jointly sponsored by the Board and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.


Don Sevener



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