Magazine article University Business

Something's Wrong with the Grading: "Shabby Analysis" Detracts from Public Debate of Higher Ed Issues

Magazine article University Business

Something's Wrong with the Grading: "Shabby Analysis" Detracts from Public Debate of Higher Ed Issues

Article excerpt

YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHILD WAS DOING WELL IN SCHOOL. A report card comes home saying that he just received an F. At school you learn that of the 50 students in the class, 36 received Fs and 11 received Ds. Only 3 students received C- or better. Your first thought is that there's a problem with the grading. You're right.

Welcome to the latest in shabby analysis about higher education. A recent report card graded the states on important college topics. In Michigan, they found us doing well in the benefits we provide back to the state (A-), and in providing opportunities in post-secondary education (B+). Michigan joined 36 other states--over two-thirds of all the states--with a grade of F in affordability.

Guess what the headlines have been since? Has there been much discussion of how we increase opportunities so next year our grade is A+ instead of B+? Unfortunately not. The only topic in discussion in policy circles is that Michigan got an F in affordability.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education issued its "Measuring Up 2004" report in September. This group is one of hundreds of nonpartisan nonprofit advocacy groups with offices in Washington D.C. It is a challenge in that environment to be heard. But such difficulty in being heard over the roar of press releases is no excuse for grabbing headlines with shabby work.

What is the biggest issue in college affordability? Put simply, there has been a massive shift in who pays for college. I am a product of public higher education in Michigan. When I went to school in the 1970s, for every $1 of tuition I paid, the state paid $3. Today, when a student pays $1, the state contributes less than $1--in Grand Valley State University's case, less than 70 cents. To a greater extent than ever in modern history, the students themselves are paying for public higher education.

Why has this happened?

First, in virtually every state, there has been an increase in prisons over the past 30 years. In Michigan, almost one of every three state employees is an employee of the Department of Corrections.

Second, all states have been scrambling to pay the costs of medical care for the poor. Since the late 1960s, we've been "partners" with the federal government in the Medicaid program. The partnership, is unfortunately, decidedly one-sided. The states and the federal government share the cost, but the federal government sets the rules. In Michigan, about 1.3 million of our 10 million residents have their health care paid for by this program. …

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