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October 2, 2002

Report Card Puts Illinois Higher Ed on Honor Roll

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois continues to rank among the elite higher education systems in the nation, according to Measuring Up 2002, the national report card released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Illinois received an A and four B’s in the National Center’s second report card, grading states in five categories of key indicators crafted to measure higher education performance: preparation for college, participation, affordability, degree completion, and benefits. All states received an “Incomplete” in a sixth category – learning – based on the National Center’s judgment that no reliable, comparable statistical measures yet exist for evaluating statewide performance.

“Illinois continues to make a strong commitment and wise investments in higher education, and those decisions keep paying off,” Governor Ryan said. “This record is a fine tribute to our colleges and universities. But it is also a testament to the leadership of our state boards, the General Assembly and this administration. We worked hard to put ourselves in this position, and that hard work must continue in the future to ensure that Illinois will always have a place at the top of the list of higher education systems in the nation.”

Illinois’ grades in Measuring Up 2002 were:

  • B+ in preparation
  • A in participation
  • B in affordability
  • B- in degree completion
  • B- in benefits.

“We are delighted to again rank among the premier higher education systems in the nation,” Steven H. Lesnik, Chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said.

“This report card is a validation of the positive support given to Illinois higher education by Governor George Ryan and the General Assembly in recent years. Although we improved in a number of areas, other states advanced even more. Thus, to continue to be in the top echelon of states, we must redouble our efforts, regardless of fiscal difficulties.”

The state’s overall “grade point average” was 86.4 in Measuring Up 2002, a slight decline from the first report card issued two years ago when its 88.8 average placed Illinois at the head of the class. Illinois ranked third in the nation in Measuring Up 2002, behind Massachusetts and Connecticut. Illinois’ grades in preparation and affordability fell from A’s to B’s and the grade in completion rose from a C+ to a B-.

“The national report card is an effective tool for highlighting the strengths and weaknesses in higher education,” Daniel J. LaVista, Executive Director of the Board, said. “Our grades reflect the emphasis the Board and our colleges and universities have placed on improving student persistence and degree completion. They also underscore the unfinished business of strengthening high school preparation so students arrive in college ready for the academic rigors they will confront.”

Illinois’ grade in affordability declined from an A to a B despite improvement in almost all of the criteria used to evaluate how affordable a state’s higher education is to students and families. And in one area – state financial aid targeted to low-income families – Illinois set the pace for the nation. “The top performing state in providing need-based financial aid, Illinois, provides more grant aid than the federal government to Illinois residents,” the National Center’s report noted.

The drop in the affordability grade reflected the impact of California’s vast community college system to dominate one criteria: low-cost colleges. California was the sole state to receive an A in affordability; in Measuring Up 2000, Illinois was among five states graded A in affordability.

By most measures used by the National Center, affordability of college in Illinois improved between the first and second report cards. For example, the percent of family income needed to pay for college expenses declined in all sectors of higher education in Illinois, although the state still ranked below the top-performing states. Similarly, Illinois’ performance on state grant aid aimed at low-income families improved over the 2000 report card, while the share of income needed by the poorest families to cover tuition at the lowest priced colleges remained unchanged at 12 percent. And reliance on loans to finance a college education declined. In 2000, the average loan for Illinois students was $4,171; in 2002, it fell to $3,379, though that figure was still above the $2,928 average of the top-performing states.

“We are proud of our record on affordability,” LaVista said. “The Board and state leaders have made need-based aid a funding priority in most recent years. However, the reductions made in the Monetary Award Program for fiscal 2003 threaten to undermine those past accomplishments. Illinois cannot retain its national standing as an affordable place to go to college if the commitment to need-based financial aid diminishes.”

Illinois continues to be one of the top-performing states in the participation of its citizens in higher education, although the National Center also noted that a significant disparity exists in the rates of participation between white and minority students of traditional college age. “We have cause to celebrate the widespread access to college available to Illinoisans,” LaVista said. “Yet, we clearly cannot rest on our laurels, nor have we. Far-reaching policies relating to increasing diversity at Illinois colleges and universities have been adopted by the Board of Higher Education, and we will be diligent in pursuing various avenues to ensure that the benefits of higher education are available to all Illinois citizens.”

Illinois’ grade in preparation for college also slipped, from an A to a B+, although the decline was not entirely unexpected, LaVista said, because the first report card did not penalize states in areas where data was unavailable. In 2002, as in Measuring Up 2000, information on the percentage of high school students enrolled in demanding math and science courses was unavailable. LaVista said the decline in the grade for preparation also underscores what the Prairie State Achievement Exam has revealed: the high school curriculum needs to be strengthened to require students to take the advanced coursework that will enable them to succeed on the statewide test and to ready themselves for the academic demands of college.

Illinois’ grade for benefits of higher education – measuring educational attainment, rise in personal income resulting from college participation, voting patterns and charitable donations – was B-, the same as two years ago.

Again, as two years ago, the National Center declined to grade states on student learning, concluding that there is no coherent measure of student achievement at the college level that permits valid state-by-state comparisons. However, the National Center is working on a project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to develop a pilot model for evaluating student learning across states, using both existing measures and others yet to be devised. Illinois is one of the states participating in the pilot project.


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