Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Attainment Honor Roll

By: Matt Denhart

Table 1: State Attainment Honor Roll


As schools are letting out for the summer, it’s appropriate for us to announce our CCAP state college attainment honor roll. By "college attainment" we are referring to the percentage of the population age 25 or more with at least bachelor degrees. These states, as listed in the accompanying table, are the top 10 in attainment during 2005. Accompanying each state’s attainment is its corresponding rank of per capita appropriations to higher education in the year 2005 and historically relative to the other 49 states. What is most remarkable is that not a single top 10 state in terms of attainment had appropriations spending in the top 10, and a majority not even in the top half of states.

As many may argue, state appropriations take time to come to produce results in the form of graduates. To compensate for this time lag we took not only a spending rank for 2005, but also calculated an average rank based on appropriations rankings in 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2005. This historical average ranking actually accents the low spending standing of the majority of honor roll states. As a whole the honor roll states average a spending rank of 31.5 (spending below the median or average), while the bottom ten states in the U.S. average a spending rank of 25th. The better performing states spend on average significantly less. This seems to call into question the hypothesis that increased spending augments state college attainment percentages.

Certainly there are a few exceptions; Minnesota, Washington and California have both historically had relatively high attainment concurrently with higher spending. Yet more striking are those states that appear to have high attainment and low spending. Take Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire for example. All have spending historically in the bottom 10 in the nation while among tops in attainment. Throw Colorado into the mix, and you see 4 states in 2005 that were tops in attainment and the bottom 4 in appropriations spending to higher education. These states clearly demonstrate the flaw in equating higher spending with more graduation success. In fact, my own research seems to call into question any significant relationship between appropriations and attainment at all. Perhaps there are other and better ways to spend these tax dollars to bolster a state’s attainment.

Many will argue that attainment is greatly affected by population migration and cultural factors, and this is the reason for higher attainment in some states relative to others, regardless of appropriations spending. That very well may be case, as skilled and educated workers move to states with better and more skilled labor opportunities. Still, this introduces another question: are some of our high spending states educating students who then migrate out of the state directly upon graduation? While state governments certainly have an obligation to provide for the education of their citizens, are they still justified in such high spending if they are in fact financing the future of other states?

Iowa is one interesting case study. The Hawkeye state has the lowest attainment of any of her six bordering states, while also ranking highest in per capita appropriations with the sole exception of Nebraska. Is Iowa funding the education the Midwest’s future? This is an interesting topic to be further explored and discussed.

1 comment:

TC said...

Very good job, Matt - very interesting. I would be curious to see the historical state attainment percentage if the info is available. But with what you have, your point is well taken.