Kansas was among six states to get the highest grades in a new state-by-state report card measuring performance in higher education.
According to the report, Kansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Minnesota and Massachusetts do the best job of preparing students for post-high school education, providing academic opportunities, making them affordable, attaining a high graduation rate and reaping the benefits of an educated work force.
Measuring Up 2000, the first-of-its kind study by the nonpartisan think tank National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, was released Thursday in Washington.
"Whether you're going to be prepared to go to college, whether or not you'll have the opportunity to enroll, whether or not you can afford to enroll, and whether you'll complete a degree ... depends on which state you live in, and the policies that state has on higher education," said Joni Finney, a policy analyst who directed the project.
In addition, the study found that in every state, poor people and minorities fared the worst in getting a higher education. "White folks are doing much better than other groups," Finney said.
Kansas fared well in the study, though states were not ranked or compared. Instead, each received a grade of A through F in five areas: preparing schoolchildren for college; participation of residents ages 18 to 44 in college or other training; affordability of college; how promptly college students finish degrees; economic and social benefits to the state as a result of its residents' levels of education.
No state got straight A's.
Kansas received an A in participation and B's in all other categories. State officials said they were pleased.
Jack Wempe, vice chair of Kansas Board of Regents, said he found the report to be "reasonably accurate."
"We have to be pleased with the education level of the population and the number of people accessing higher education," Wempe said.
Although the study reflected above-average scores in all areas, Kansas officials said there was room for improvement.
"We've all been very happy with what's going on but not satisfied," said State Sen. Barbara Lawrence, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. "We'd like to get those up to A's."
Lawrence and Wempe agreed with the report that Kansas does not provide enough need-based aid to students. The study showed that state grant aid targeted to low-income families as a percent of federal Pell Grant aid to low-income families was 17 percent in Kansas as compared to 106 percent in the study's top states.
The study also found that 47 percent of Kansas high school freshmen enroll in college within four years, compared with top states' 53 percent. Even with the A ranking in participation, which also takes into account working adults enrolled in higher education, Wempe said Kansas could improve.
"Even though we send a higher percentage of high school graduates to school, it's not something we should be totally satisfied with," he said. "We don't have a graduating senior who wouldn't benefit from higher education."
The ideal state, by the study's reckoning, would prepare students for college as well as Utah, reach the post-secondary enrollment rate of Delaware, offer higher education as affordable as California's, and see two- and four-year degrees completed as diligently as they are in New Hampshire.
Such a place might then match Maryland, the top state in terms of highly educated residents earning good incomes, and displaying high levels of civic involvement and charitable giving.
Each "report card" was based on broad statistics for each state, largely from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Education Department.
The study focused on the states because of their role in all education, whether financing public universities or grants to private colleges. States determine policy and spending on public universities and colleges where 78 percent of undergraduates enroll, the report said. And they provide about 29 percent of support for all public and private colleges.
Among overall top scorers was Massachusetts, which got an A or A- in all but affordability, which merited a D. Illinois got three A's, but a B- for benefits to the state and C+ for degree completion.
West Virginia's grades were among the poorest: three in the D range, C for completion rate and an F in benefits for the state. Other low-scoring states were Arkansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Oregon and Tennessee.
The study's authors started from the assumption that Americans now need more education than a high school diploma.
"As we enter the 21st century, the clear signal from the new economy is that education and training beyond high school are now prerequisites for employment that can support a middle-class lifestyle," North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt wrote in a forward to the report as chair of the center's board.
Report updates are planned in 2002 and 2004.