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Missouri colleges among nations worst

December 04, 2000
By: John Sheridan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A recent report that ranks Missouri higher education institutions as among the worst in the nation has drawn criticism from top Missouri education officials who say it does not present an accurate picture of Missouri schools.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education which conducted the study finds Missouri schools are average, or just barely passing in the five areas it studied, preparation, participation, affordability, persistence, and completion. This has some education officials objecting.

"We are going to take it seriously. On issues we scored no better than a C on, we need to provide additional effort and focus," said John Wittstruck, Missouri Education Department assistant commissioner for policy analysis.

Joni Finney, vice president at the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said the data used in the study is from 1998, but said she isn't concerned that the grades are based on information that is two years old.

"A lot of things take longer than two years to affect. Some of these problems are institutional and will take years of concentrated effort to correct," Finney said.

According to Finney, Missouri higher education commissioner Kala Stroup asked that Missouri be given the first chance to respond to the report at the annual Governor's Conference, on Thursday, in Columbia. Top Missouri education officials, including governor-elect Bob Holden, will attend.

"We have a conference every year, but this is definitely something that is in response to the grade card," said Cheryl Schroeder, Missouri higher education communications director.

Finney, who will address the conference, said the rankings are not meant to be similar to institutional rankings like the ones "U.S. News and World Report" annually publishes, but instead are meant to hold state leaders accountable for education successes or failures, but not all education leaders are convinced the rankings are useful.

Truman State University president Jack Magruder said he is concerned that all Missouri higher education institutions are being looked at as one.

"Truman is a unique institution quite different than other institutions in the state. To lump them together is unfair," Magruder said.

Jack Keiser, Southwest Missouri State president agreed the rankings do not necessarily present an accurate picture of Missouri higher education.

"I don't think anybody should have a knee-jerk reaction to it," Keiser said, adding that the report does not take public satisfaction into account, but if included, Missouri would earn high marks.

Both presidents said to Missouri's low education taxes, but relatively high per student spending could perhaps present an inaccurate perception of Missouri education.

Joe Moore, media relations director at the University of Missouri, also pointed to holes in the study.

"I am not sure how much you can find out about an individual school looking at the report," Moore said.

Missouri officials, however, were not totally rejecting the report.

"We don't look at it skeptically," Schroeder said, "we just want to improve."

Wittstruck, also said the report is useful, in spite of questions about its accuracy.

"Clearly, it is not a report that says we have done all that we can do," he said.