Report card shows Texas colleges have some work to do

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Texas received an average score in student performance and a failing grade in its openness to accept higher education providers in a recent report by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce, a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Called Leaders & Laggards,­ the June study presents a state-by-state report card that assigns letter grades in six categories to all 50 states based on their four-year and two-year higher education institutions. The report gave Texas A’s in two categories: one for efficiency and cost effectiveness and another for transparency and accountability at four-year institutions. It also analyzed student access and success, ability to meet labor market demand, policy environment and innovation, where the state scored grades ranging from F to A. The organization did not assign any states an overall grade.

Jaimie Matthews, programs and research manager at the institute, said she hoped the study would draw states’ attention to areas in which they could improve.

“I think it’s really important for people to understand why we didn’t assign one grade,” Matthews said. “It’s because a lot of states have things they can certainly improve upon. We didn’t want that to be masked by good performance in other areas.”

Texas received one failing grade, in the category of openness to providers, which is a state’s willingness to allow new organizations to move in and open new higher education institutions. Matthews said when handing out grades in this category, Leaders & Laggards looked at what regulations were in place, financial burden and the burden of the approval process on organizations who were attempting to become educational providers in the state.

“The interesting thing with new providers is we understand how new regulations exist, but some of them are prohibitory in the sense that they don’t allow for these services to come in and educate good people,” Matthews said. “So those states might want to assess what types of barriers they have in place.”

In the efficiency and cost-effectiveness at four-year institutions category, the study reported Texas had a $48,849 cost completion while the national average was $68,140. UT-Austin’s average cost per degree in 2008-2009 is listed at $65,390.

Texas received an ‘A’ in its transparency and accountability. In this category, Matthews said the study focused on if and how states publish information about higher education, which includes things like cost and graduation rates.

“For the public accountability report, some states put out 500-page documents where it is almost impossible to find what you’re looking for,” Matthews said. “So we were really interested to see how states display the data they collect. That’s something that Texas should be proud of, the fact that they collect it and they put it out in an easy-to-use format.”

The University of Texas System, for example, has a UT System Productivity Dashboard with information regarding enrollment, graduation, cost and other indicators.

Texas received a ‘C’ in the area of student access and success, partly because of its below-average student graduation rate over six years. Texas had a completion rate of 47.9 percent, while the national average was 54.5 percent. According to the UT System Productivity Dashboard, the six-year graduation rate in 2004 for the UT System was 82.9 percent.

Overall, Matthews said Leaders & Laggards hopes states will focus more on output over input.

“We really need to move to a thinking on what is this education doing not only for the taxpayers and for future employers but for the students, as well,” Matthews said.