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College-level learning can be assessed in a cost-effective and minimally intrusive way to give states credible, comprehensive and comparable information. States can use the results to improve their higher education policies and practices, in order to increase the knowledge and skills of their residents.


The extent of college-level learning varies from state to state and, within each state, from group to group.
The pattern of learning varies from state to state, leading to different policy challenges.
The racial and ethnic groups that are growing the fastest lag the most in learning, and more so in some states than in others.
Teachers are not equally well prepared across states.
All states should be able to use the same assessment strategy to get similar information.


Each state should adopt the model described here, as recommended by the SHEEO (State Higher Education Executive Officers) National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education.
Once results are in, state officials should convene policy and higher education leaders to discuss the findings, identify challenges, and target state policies and resources that will help address those challenges.
Institutions should use the results to benchmark their performance and enrich their campus-based assessment programs.


By Margaret A. Miller
A recent five-state project, the National Forum on College-Level Learning, has demonstrated that learning, higher education's most important product, can be assessed in ways that make interstate comparison possible, that these assessments are consistent with other information we have about the states, and that the results can be useful to policymakers. In a knowledge-based global economy, the economic, social, and civic welfare of states depends on the capacity of their residents to think at an increasingly sophisticated level. Certificates and degrees are increasingly inadequate proxies for this kind of "educational capital." It is the skills and knowledge behind the degrees that matters. A state-level approach to assessing college-level learning can give states that essential information.

      A focus on the state as a whole can tell policymakers:

the extent to which its institutions are collectively effective in contributing to its store of educational capital,
how well higher education is serving various regions or sub-populations within the state,
how well the state's workforce-development efforts are working,
whether higher education is producing enough well-trained professionals in areas critical to the state's welfare,
what economic development options are available or lacking to the state because of the educational capital it has, and
whether the state has the range of programs needed for the economy and lifestyles its residents want.

A collective examination also enables cost-benefit analyses concerning the learning that the state's system of higher education is producing relative to the state's investment.

Armed with answers to these kinds of questions, a state can undertake further analyses, target resources where they are most needed to address urgent state priorities, and promote collective solutions to collective problems.


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