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Higher Ed Commission looks at how Missouri schools stack up

April 14, 2003
By: Heather J. Carlson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Solutions weren't part of the equation Monday at the first meeting of the governor's Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

Instead, commissioners spent the day getting a handle on the current state of Missouri's higher education system.

The discussion focused on a 2002 report completed by the National Center for Public Policy in Education that gives Missouri a C average when it comes to post-secondary education.

"All the statistics show we've got a long way to go," said Commission Chairman Crosby Kemper III, CEO of UMB Financial Corporation.

But Kemper is optimistic that significant policy changes can be made to education despite state budget constraints.

"There may be things we can do within the resources of higher education," he said.

Gov. Bob Holden established the commission, comprised mainly of business leaders and politicians, last month. The group is charged with making recommendations on how to improve higher education in five key areas: student preparation, participation, affordability, completion and benefits. To do this, the commission plans to work closely with The National Collaborative for Postsecondary Education Policy which is made up of three nonprofits -- The Education Commission of the States, The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and The Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Missouri is one of four states whose higher ed system is being studied by the collaborative, thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Commissioners reviewed a 2002 study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Eduction which graded each of the 50 states' higher education systems. The report issues a grade in each of the five areas the commission is concerned studying. The five highest-performing states in each category receive an "A." The other states are judged based on these top states.

Today's meeting began with commissioners looking at how Missouri's higher ed system compares nationally.

- Student preparation: Missouri earned a B-, up from a C+ in 2000. The survey considers state test scores and how many students take advanced science and math classes.

- Participation: Missouri received a C+ versus a C- in 2000. This category looks at how many high school students and working-age adults enroll in post-secondary eduction.

- Affordability: The state gets a D+, the same grade as in 2000. The survey looks at what percentage of an average family's income in Missouri goes toward higher education, what state aid is available to low-income students and the average amount of loans students borrow each year.

- Completion: Missouri earned a B- in 2002, the same as in 2000. This category measures how many first-time, full-time college students complete bachelor's degrees within five years of graduating from high school.

- Benefits: Missouri's grade dropped from a C in 2000 to a D+ in 2002. This score looks at the difference in the average income of bachelor's degree holders versus non-degree holders.

With this information as a basis, commissioners plan to begin forming policy change recommendations at the commission's June meeting.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said it's critical that the commission comes up with specific legislation that could be introduced.

"We just have to define where we want to go," Harris said, "and not let this just be a blue-ribbon commission, the findings of which just end up on a shelf somewhere."