A recent study graded the affordability of education in the nation’s schools… Oregon’s grade? F

    Oregon’s higher education system received an “F” grade in affordability last month when the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education released “report cards” for each of the 50 states.

    The document, called “Measuring Up: The National Report Card on Higher Education,” rated higher education systems on five criteria: preparation, participation, affordability, completion and benefits.

    The state’s highest grade was an “A” in benefits, which measures the economic and societal perks college-educated residents bring to Oregon. Other grades included a “C-minus” in preparation, which measures high school student readiness for college, a “C-plus” in participation, which measures opportunities to enroll in higher education, and a “B-minus” in completion, which measures the number of matriculated students who actually graduate.

    With Oregon earning a 2.2 grade-point average according to the National Center for Public Policy’s standards, the report says that the proportion of certificates and degrees the state produces is “comparable to such low-performing nations as Hungary and the Slovak Republic.”

    ”We do pay attention to those studies,” said Di Saunders, director of communications for the Oregon University System. “Our last ‘F’ in affordability was one factor that drove the board to try and increase the Oregon Opportunity Grant. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the ‘F’ grade in affordability. If you look at our need-based aid, we’re far below the national average.”

    Saunders said that the “Measuring Up” report card did not take into account 2005’s expansion of the Oregon Opportunity Grant. The grant has enlarged by 77 percent since the National Center for Public Policy gathered its data.

    ”That wouldn’t get us up to an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ though,” Saunders said. “With the additional 77 percent, we’d probably get a ‘D’ or a ‘D-minus.'”

    Ruth Keele, OUS director of performance management and outcomes, said that “grades” and statistics of this type can be difficult to interpret.

    ”It’s different depending on what time horizon you’re looking at,” she said. “If you look at a five- or 10-year horizon, in a lot of objective measures we are doing better.”

    Keele said this study in particular could be hard to interpret because each year the grades are computed by indexing the scores to the highest-performing states. Because of this, she said it would be possible for a state to improve on an indicator, but still receive a lower grade than it did in the previous study.

    Saunders said the OUS also generates its own report cards. These reports study a six-year graduation rate, student persistency after freshman year, and the condition of OUS bachelor’s graduates one year after leaving school.

    The OUS 2006 performance report, released this month, showed improvement on almost all factors measured.

    Keele said that the studies by OUS also show some good news for Oregon’s students.

“Ninety-seven percent of OUS graduates are either employed, in graduate school, or doing the activity of their choice,” she said.

    Keele said that the system is struggling economically, however.

“Our campuses are doing better in an environment that continues to struggle with funding, but we seem to be approaching the limits of that,” she said. “There’s only so long we can do more with less.”

    A radio and television ad discussing “Measuring Up,” put out by Ron Saxton’s gubernatorial campaign, has generated controversy among educators. The ad cites Oregon’s low marks in preparation, participation and affordability.

    ”Kulongoski has increased education spending by hundreds of millions of dollars,” reads the radio spot. “And what has that done for Oregon’s schools?”

    ”We have not seen hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Saunders. “That has not occurred. The governor did his best to provide us with as much as he could, but we’re receiving fewer dollars now than we did in 1999 and that’s not adjusting for inflation.”

    Saxton spokesperson Angela Wilhelms said the radio spot is meant to discuss K-12 education because the “preparation” grades and “participation” grades also reflect K-12 realities.

    ”That ad wasn’t about higher education,” she explained. “K-12 spending has gone up drastically. Ron Saxton supports greater investment in higher education. I can’t be clearer about that.”

    The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization located in San Jose, Calif. They have issued these report cards every other year since 2000.