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January 11, 2009 — Measuring Up

Dr. Joseph Savoie -- Sun, 01/11/2009 - 11:05am

In December, a report entitled Measuring Up – The National Report on Higher Education 2008 was released. It received quite a bit of national and local attention in the press. Measuring Up is a biannual report by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Louisiana’s grades in the report card were not impressive. A few faculty members expressed concern that this type of publicity could harm student and faculty recruitment. They may be right unless one understands what the report card is really about.

I believe the report contains helpful information to drive public policy. In fact, in my previous work at the Board of Regents, I frequently used it for that purpose. However it has its flaws. The most obvious is that its name is a misnomer. This report card on higher education has little to do with the work or performance of colleges and universities or their students. Rather, the report card grades states on policies and investments that are most likely to affect participation and success in college by a state’s citizenry. Secondly, while the report notes progress, it fails to give any credit for that progress when it assigns grades.

The report card grades states in six overall performance categories. States’ letter grades in each performance category are calculated by comparing each state to the best-performing states for each indicator. Letter grades are based on a 100-point scale: An “A” represents a score of 90 or above, and an “F” represents a score of 60 or below. Following are the categories, a brief description and Louisiana’s grade.


  • How adequately does the state prepare students for education and training beyond high school?

Indicators that make up this grade include 18 to 24 year-olds with a high school credential, K-12 student achievement on national assessments, math, science, reading and writing, and 7th – 12th graders taught by teachers with a major in their subject.

Louisiana received a D –


  • Do state residents have sufficient opportunities to enroll in educational training beyond high school?

Indicators that make up this grade include high school graduation rates and 25-49 year-olds enrolled in post-secondary education with no bachelor’s degree.

Louisiana received an F


  • How affordable is higher education for students and their families?

Indicators include the percent of income needed to pay for college expenses minus financial aid, a state’s investment in need-based financial aid as compared to the federal investment and average undergraduate student loan debt.

Louisiana, as well as every state except California, received an F

Completion (This is the only performance category that directly assesses the work of colleges and universities.)

  • Do students make progress toward and complete their certificates or degrees in a timely manner?

Indicators that make up this grade include Freshman to Sophomore retention rates and 6-year graduation rates.

Louisiana received a C +, its highest grade in any category


  • What benefits does the state receive from having a highly educated population?

Indicators that make up this grade include adults with Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, personal income levels, voting in national elections, charitable gift deductions on itemized tax returns and increases in volunteering.

Louisiana received a D


  • What is known about student learning as a result of education and training beyond high school?

Factors include literacy levels of college educated residents, graduates ready for advanced practice, and performance of college graduates.

Every state received an I (Incomplete)

The report also provides a “conduct” grade which evaluates change (up or down) over time. In this part of the report, Louisiana fares much better. For example:


    “Over the past 15 years, the percentage of 8th graders performing well on national assessments in math has almost tripled…”
    “The percentage of 8th graders performing well on national assessments in science has increased substantially over the past decade making Louisiana the fastest-improving state on this measure…”
    “During the same period, the percentage of low-income 8th graders performing well on national assessments in math has more than tripled…”


    “The chance of enrolling in college by age 19 has increased by 31% compared with a nationwide increase of 8%.”


    “Over the last decade, the percentage of first-time, full-time college students earning a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling in college has increased substantially, placing Louisiana among the fastest-improving states on this measure.”

    “Since the early 1990’s, the proportion of students completing certificates and degrees relative to the number enrolled has increased substantially, making Louisiana one of the fastest-improving states on this measure.”

    “During the same period, Louisiana has seen a substantial increase in the number of certificates and degrees completed relative to the population with no college degree.”

Unfortunately the state receives no credit for its progress in the grading scale used by the Center. By not giving credit for progress or penalty for lack thereof, the grades assigned to states tend to reflect educational inequities that have existed for generations and will likely take decades to correct. The important thing for us to note is that Louisiana is making important progress and absent an understanding of the report’s purpose, flawed conclusions can easily be drawn.

It is unfortunate that the press didn’t analyze Measuring Up 2008 to any great degree and instead focused on sensational headlines. I wanted you to have a deeper understanding. The full report can be found at:

Please let me know if you have additional questions or need further clarification.


Dr. E. Joseph Savoie
University of Louisiana at Lafayette