The report indicates the Kansas education system, from pre-K through postsecondary, does relatively well in preparing students to complete high school, participate in postsecondary education and complete a degree or workforce credential – and does so at a fairly low cost. These conclusions are consistent with KASB’s Comparing Kansas report on educational attainment and K-12 funding.
However, the report notes that all states are projected to fall short of projected educational needs.
The report, College Opportunity at Risk: An Assessment of the States, was prepared by the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. It provides a state-by-state "risk ranking" for addressing future educational opportunity using 17 indicators in four areas: education performance (both K-12 and higher education), education equity, higher education funding and productivity, and state economy and finances.
“Unless state and college leaders take steps to ensure that more Americans attain postsecondary degrees and certifications, the United States will be woefully unprepared for the economic and civic challenges of the 21st century,” say the authors, led by Dr. Joni E. Finney, director of the Institute for Higher Education Research. “By 2025, the United States will need approximately 60 percent of its workforce to have college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications, and other high-quality college credentials (Lumina Foundation, 2018).” The report indicates that Kansas had 50.7 percent of its residents meeting those goals in 2016, and says if Kansas fails to improve, it will fall short of the 60 percent benchmark by 133,877 in 2025.
Other reports have suggested Kansas will have an even greater need for credentialed workers. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workplace said in 2013 that the nation will need 65 percent of workers with a postsecondary credential and that Kansas would need 71 percent – tied for sixth highest among the 50 states. These concerns have been a driving force in the Kansas State Board of Education’s Kansans Can vision to boost high school graduation and postsecondary attainment rates.
How Kansas scored in the new report
Overall, Kansas ranked 12 LOWEST in “risk rank,” meaning 11 states were considered to have a lower risk of not meeting educational goals and 38 were at higher risk. The states with lower risk rankings were (from lowest risk to highest): Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina, Florida and Delaware.
How does Kansas fare in the individual areas covered by the report, and what implications does it have for state and local policies?
Education Performance – Kansas ranked 9th
Kansas was average in the percent of students scoring at proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math at fourth and eighth grade (between 33-41 percent), the percent of students completing a four-year degree within six years (51.8 percent) and percent of family income, on average, required to pay the cost of attending postsecondary institutions (after subtracting all financial aid) in the state (27.2 percent). Kansas ranked lowest in the percent of passing Advanced Placement test scores per 100 juniors and seniors (13.4).
The Kansans Can vision places a high emphasis on graduation rates and postsecondary participation, which, along with career-focused individual plans for study, make up three of the five outcomes that all districts are to focus on. (The other two are kindergarten readiness and social and emotional issues.) The Kansas Department of Education last year developed a Postsecondary Effectiveness report as one of the accountability tools for all districts.
Educational Equity – Kansas ranked 33rd
Kansas ranked 20th in the white/non-white gap in high school completion or graduation rate (8.5 percent). It ranked 33rd in the percentage difference between the percent of non-white students enrolled in degree or workforce certificate programs (7.4 percent). In other words, a smaller percentage of students from racial and ethnic minorities are enrolled in postsecondary programs than are in the overall population.
Kansas ranked 42nd in the gap between white and non-white students in the “on time” completion rate for two-year and four-year institutions. Finally, Kansas ranked 20th in “geographic equity,” defined as the average distance from each county center and the closest degree-granting institution (6.4 miles).
This data suggests Kansas is about average in the “achievement gap” between white and non-white students for high school graduation, but a lower percentage of non-white students attend postsecondary programs and an even lower percentage actually complete those programs.
Note that the equity gap only measures the difference between white and non-white students. For example, a smaller difference between white and non-white students was considered better, even if both groups were below the national average, than a larger difference if both groups were higher than average.
Higher Education Funding and Productively – Kansas ranked 2nd
This was the best area for Kansas. The state was in the top 15 states in postsecondary productively or state and local appropriations per degree and certificate produced at all public institutions ($25,082), and in the number of degrees and workforce certificates awarded for every 100 full-time equivalent students at all degree-granted institutions.
Kansas ranked 2nd in the “volatility of higher education appropriations,” defined as the percent of the amount of money appropriated specifically for higher education fluctuated annually between 2000 and 2015. Ranking 2nd means higher education appropriations in Kansas were NOT volatile; that state support did not change as much from year to year as most states.
This data suggests that a comparatively high percentage of students complete degrees at a relatively low cost to the state. It indicates that Kansas state support for higher education has been quite stable compared to other states but does not show how the level of funding compares to costs or needs.
State Economy and Finances – Kansas ranked 31st
The report’s final area looks at a state’s economy and fiscal practices. On the economic side, Kansas was fairly average in gross domestic product (revenue from all goods and services in the state’s economy) per capita in 2016 ($46,217). The Kansas “New Economy Index” ranked 30th. The index developed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a composite indicator that represents how well the structure of each state’s economy aligns with the ideal structure of the New Economy in five broad categories: knowledge jobs; globalization; economic dynamism; the digital economy; and innovation capacity. Finally, Kansas ranked 23rd in Income Inequality, the gap between the median family income of families in the highest and lowest income groups.
In terms of state fiscal policies, Kansas ranked 17th in volatility of general fund expenditures, the average annual fluctuation of state expenditures from year to year between 2000 and 2015 (2.7 percentage points). The state’s worse rank, 47th, was state reserves, with an average “rainy day fund” balance of 0.0 percent between 2016 and 2018. Finally, Kansas ranked 21st in state debt and unfunded liability as a percent of state revenue (180.6 percent).
It is unclear how the report defines “rainy day funds” in state budgets. Kansas does not have a separate rainy day fund but is supposed to maintain state general fund ending balances of 7.5 percent. That threshold has been regularly ignored in recent years.
Although the report suggests that Kansas is better positioned than most states in providing postsecondary opportunity for its students. There are two major concerns.
First, Kansas has wider disparities between white and non-white students in postsecondary education than most states. That is especially problematic considering other reports that project the non-white population in Kansas will grow faster than in most states. Second, the state’s economic ability to support education is barely average compared to other states.
The biggest area of concern raised by the authors of the report is the shifting financial burden for postsecondary education from state and local funding to tuition, and the impact of that shift on under-represented student populations. It calls for new compacts for public education. “Today it is clear that post–WWII state policies, which were designed to educate 30 to 40 percent of Americans beyond high school, do not meet current and future demand,” said the report, stressing that new economic demands will require educating 60 percent or more of students beyond high school.