New Study Takes a Crack at Measuring Higher Education's Productivity

July 16, 2009

Measuring value and productivity in higher education can be a complex and controversial topic: Lawmakers, taxpayers, and people paying tuition want to get the most for their money, while college administrators and faculty members argue that the quality of their educational product is directly tied to the amount of public support they receive.

Now, a new report from the the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability attempts to rank which states are getting the most college bang for their bucks.

Florida, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and North Dakota are the most productive states because their cost per credential is the lowest in the nation, the Delta Project concludes. The report, which was released today, then goes a step further, saying that the less-costly degrees also provide a greater economic value to their states.

Degrees are most expensive in Alaska, Wyoming, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, which the report says are the least-productive states.

The report was prepared by Patrick Kelly, a senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Mr. Kelly’s method compares median earnings of people at each degree level, by state, to the cost of each degree.

The new analysis, however, is only a starting point in the conversation, concedes the author in a news release that accompanies the report. “The framework for measuring productivity presented here charts a new course,” he says. “Even though it does not reach the finish line, it may go as far toward it as any other approach, but with fewer twists and turns.”

The end of the report also lists several more limits in its approach, including the fact that it does not account for states that may simply be starving their higher-education systems. “Some states work their way into high levels of productivity by running their systems ‘on the cheap,’” the report says. —Eric Kelderman