Opportunity at Risk: An Assessment of the States

TalkingEDU_Logo-576877-editedThe education policies introduced after World War II were successful in increasing enrollments to power America’s post war expansion. That model is no longer effective. While student debt and costly tuition are the topics most discussed and debated, an even larger problem threatens higher education and its goal of delivering well-educated knowledge workers to meet the nation’s needs.


The Big Picture

The lack of a national higher education system means that education policies and practices differ from one state to the next. Because of these differences, getting a comprehensive national picture of the current state of higher ed has been nearly impossible. That is, until now.

In July, the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education released College Opportunity at Risk: An Assessment of the States. Designed to guide policy makers and education leaders at the state level, the report “is the first state-by-state analytic tool to consider the breadth of the policy landscape that must be navigated to ensure future educational opportunity.” Using 17 indicators divided into four categories, this state-by-state analysis - ranked from 1 (low) to 50 (high) - seeks to “collectively describe the risk that a state will not be able to provide higher education opportunities sufficient to meet the economy’s need for credentialed workers.”

The Four Interrelated Risk Categories

Educational Performance: Risk areas encompass preparation for education and training opportunities after high school, participation in workforce certificate and college degree programs, completion of certificate and degree programs, and affordable educational opportunities for students and their families.

Educational Equity: Risk areas encompass existing gaps in high school preparation, college participation, completion of workforce and college education programs, college affordability and ensuring access to higher education in regions across the state.

Higher Education Funding and Productivity: Risk areas encompass volatility of state funding for higher education and productivity in producing workforce certificates and college degrees.

State Economy and Finances: Risk areas encompass the robustness of state economies, the volatility of general fund revenues, reserves, debt and pension liabilities, and the gaps in income between high-and low-income residents.

Perspective and Context

This report contains a wealth of valuable information as well as a detailed view of the disparities between states. It also offers a “framework for moving forward” which includes: the need to prioritize those students most in need of education and those institutions where most Americans are educated, the need to rebalance the sources of funding, the necessity of states to provide funding for education and training beyond the secondary level, and finally, the need for each state to look closely at how its unique challenges influence both equity and performance.

The Bottom Line

As the demographic face of the U.S. changes, and the gap between the wealthy and less privileged continues to widen, the increasing demand for college educated workers needed to fuel the 21st century economy will not be met without significant changes at the state level. This Penn GSE report offers an excellent place to start.

To read the complete report click here.

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