Illinois higher education ranks first in nation

By Gus Bode

First-ever national report card places Illinois B+ for overall educational performance

The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently opened the first national report card, “Measuring Up 2000,” to find Illinois scored at the top of the class.

Receiving an overall B+ grade, Illinois’ higher education scored a composite 88.8 overall grade point average, placing Illinois first in the country for its educational programs in 2000.


The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent research policy organization in San Jose, Calif., developed the project to evaluate educational systems and how each state government can adjust policy-making accordingly.

Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, wrote in “Measuring Up 2000” that the states have the primary role in shaping the public policy of higher education.

Callan said the report card, a product from a two-and-a-half-year process, is designed to give state leaders and policy-makers a tool for evaluating and comparing their performance against top-performing states in each of the six categories.

“There has not been a comprehensive look at state’s performance in higher education,” Doyle said. “[With the report card], policy makers have a review of how they are doing.”

Illinois received A’s in three of the six categories – preparation for college, participation in college and affordability. College completion rates in Illinois warranted a C+, and Illinois earned a B- for benefits derived by the state from higher education.

However, all states were given an “incomplete” for the sixth category, student learning, because of the lack of comparable data.

Doyle said the National Center could not measure the kind of information it knows in the area of student learning for each state. Thus, it would be unfair to compare states with data that was unavailable in other programs.


The report card graded each state on the six categories, but Doyle said some state higher education boards calculated an average grade for the states resulting in a first-place rank for Illinois.

The National Center suggested recommendations for each state and overall to improve a low-scoring category. But in February 1999, the IBHE composed the “Illinois Commitment,” a strategic plan to guide higher education institutions and agencies into the next century under six goals.

The goals included helping Illinois businesses and industries sustain strong economic growth, improve teaching at all levels by joining elementary and secondary education, holding students to even higher expectations for learning and be accountable for quality of academic programs, improving cost-effectiveness and productivity and ensuring every Illinois citizen can attend college because of financial aid.

Affordability was one way that Illinois stood out against some of its top classmates such as Connecticut and New Jersey, Doyle said.

He said Connecticut showed a high percentage of students remaining within its state to attend college, but Illinois’ financial assistance programs help keep college students within its borders and universities.

“Illinois has done an extraordinary job of making their colleges affordable,” he said. “With the MAP program and moderate levels of tuition, it is not the same kind of effort in other states.”

However, Doyle said Illinois’ grade for degree completion was low compared to other schools. Connecticut was one state that had a higher grade in college completion, but he said all states could improve on certain areas.

“Some overall improvement can be made to the completion rate,” Doyle said. “Students need to get through college in a timely manner.”

Don Sevener, IBHE communications director, said that after looking at Illinois’ grades in comparison with the “Illinois Commitment,” the IBHE has noted other changes and improvements for its top-ranking educational system.

Noting the grades are based on performance for 2000, he said the recommendations from the National Center and IBHE’s own assessment must include recent events, such as budget cuts.

Sevener said IBHE is deeply involved in making Illinois more affordable, because students are facing rising tuition costs and MAP grant cuts.

“Despite the high grade, this will continue to be a high priority for the board,” Sevener said.

But Sevener said Illinois also hopes to develop collaborative efforts with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to improve financial aid and develop teacher-training programs.

The report card showed a high grade in participation and preparation of college, and that includes how universities are attracting students. The grade notes Illinois met its goal in the IBHE 2001 Annual Report, ranking Illinois the fourth in high percentages of minority population.

Sevener said it is hard to pinpoint which colleges help to contribute to the ranking, but he said SIUC has a high regard for diversity.

“SIUC has worked very hard to ensure that minorities have access to campus,” Sevener said, noting that diversity was a factor in Illinois’ high rank.

Doyle said that overall, the state higher education boards responded positively to the national report card. He said it offers states a chance to compare their policies, goals and performances among other states and learn from their strengths and weaknesses.

Sevener was pleased with the ranking and hopes Illinois will continue to rank high in the future.

“The national report card shows the fine job Illinois colleges have been doing and support the General Assembly has given to Illinois,” Sevener said. “That support has been important to our system, and it gave a No. 1 rank in the country.”

Reporter Samantha Edmondson can be reached at [email protected]