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W.Va. fails its course in education

December 05, 2004|by Lyn Widmyer

When a child brings home a bad report card, the time-honored tradition for parents is to ground the errant student until grades improve.

But what do you do when an entire state gets an unacceptable report card?

Every other year, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education issues a national report card for higher education called "Measuring Up."

The five subject areas evaluated are preparation (Are students being prepared adequately for higher education?), participation in higher education, affordability of higher education, completion of college and benefits to the state from having a highly educated population.

In 2004, the state of West Virginia earned three C's, one D and an F. Clearly, some people in state government need to be sent to their rooms.

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Despite the mediocre grades, there are some bright spots. Although the state earned a C+ in preparing students to succeed in college, the report notes West Virginia has made notable improvements over the past decade in this area.

More high school students are enrolling in upper-level math and science, and the state boasts a very high percentage of qualified teachers. Still, improvements in these areas are not enough to place West Virginia with the top states in terms of student achievement.

West Virginia receives a C for the number of students completing a college degree or certificate in a timely manner.

I am not too worried about this grade. After talking to friends and colleagues with children in colleges all over the United States, I have concluded there are no students anywhere graduating in four years.

Getting a C- in participation and an F in affordability, on the other hand, is unacceptable. Measuring Up states West Virginia has made no notable progress over the past decade in the proportion of students enrolling in higher education.

There has also been little progress in providing affordable opportunities for higher education. The West Virginia PROMISE scholarship program provides funding to students based on academic achievement, but the report suggests more need-based programs should be implemented.

The results of West Virginia's mediocre and failing grades in preparation, participation and affordability can be seen in the category of benefits. This is the measure of how a state benefits from having a well-educated population.

West Virginia gets a D in this category (Maryland, by comparison, earned an A) because such a very small proportion of residents have a bachelor's degree. This does not bode well in a national economy that is more and more dominated by knowledge-based industries.

So whom at the state level do we hold accountable for this lousy report card?

I guess I would have to opt for the state Legislature. Since 1990, the share of state appropriations for higher education has declined from 14 percent to 8 percent, and the share for grades K-12 has gone from 26 percent to 12 percent. These declines, cited in Measuring Up, do not bode well for the state's next report card.

Grounding the entire state Legislature until grades improve is hardly practical, but it sure is appealing. Maybe a more incentive-based approach would work better. Legislative pay raises could be linked to getting straight A's on the next Measuring Up report card.

After getting stellar report cards a few years in a row, we might even be able to modify our state slogan: West Virginia - Wild, Wonderful and Well-educated.




Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is rwidmyer@msn.com

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