Report card offers challenges

Report card offers challenges A national report card on higher education that gives South Dakota low marks for college affordability offers the state substantive goals to work on, the executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents said Oct. 2.

"In higher education, our students are accustomed to seeing their work graded," Robert T. Tad Perry said. "Higher education public policy should be no different. We welcome feedback on what we're doing and where we can improve. We hope to use this information as we continue working with South Dakota's policymakers to further the state's investments in higher education."

Measuring Up 2002, a report issued Oct. by the National Center for Public Policy and Education, grades states on their performance in five categories: preparation, participation, affordability, completion, and benefits. South Dakota received Bs for college participation and completion rates, and a C in preparing students for higher education. It earned a D+ for benefits the state accrues from higher education and a failing grade in affordability. The report looked at both public and private higher education institutions.

"In measures of affordability, we always fare poorly when compared to other states because South Dakota does not offer state-based financial aid," Perry said. "Clearly, we believe the state and its citizens would benefit immeasurably from a state scholarship program and other enhanced financial aid benefits."

Despite the state's low grade in affordability, there are some bright spots there, Perry noted. The overall cost to attend South Dakota's public universities compares favorably to costs in other states. And, the Measuring Up 2002 report reported South Dakota is a top-performing state on the low average loan amount that undergraduate students borrow for their higher education.

Perry said South Dakota's public higher education system should get more credit for efforts it has made to gauge student learning, an indicator which was marked "incomplete" in the national study. Since 1998, the Board of Regents has required all second-semester sophomores at its institutions to take a proficiency exam testing writing skills, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. "South Dakota is the only public system in the country that comprehensively measures student achievement, and our students need to meet a minimum score before they graduate," Perry said. "South Dakota students consistently score above the national norms on this exam."

However, since most states lack these kinds of data on the skills and knowledge of their students, the report said it was impossible to make state-by-state comparisons and gave all states an "incomplete" in the learning category. Perry is hoping South Dakota's work in this area will be recognized in future reports.

Perry said he was pleased to see South Dakota improved in college participation � from a C to a B-minus � since the first report card was issued two years ago. "More of our students are going on to college immediately after high school, and the percentage of working-age adults who enroll part time in postsecondary education also has improved," he said.

The report also noted that the percentage of South Dakota students who complete certificates and degrees relative to the number enrolled is very high. "These participation and completion rates are encouraging. We need to continue to focus on improving those outcomes," Perry said.

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