Wisconsin does a fairly good job preparing high school students for secondary education, and the likelihood of enrolling in college at age 19 is high, according to an annual report card from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. That's the good news.
The bad news is that Wisconsin's poor and working-class families must devote 44% of their income, even after aid, to pay for costs at public four-year colleges, which helps explain why the state gets an an "F" on affordability in the Measuring Up 2008 report . Other Midwestern states also got an "F" on that measure, in fact, all fifty states received that same failing grade. "Nobody should take solace on the fact that the nation is falling back on affordability," says Joni Finney with the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. "No state, including Wisconsin, can afford to have fewer young people and adults enrolled in higher education.
Finney says one of the key indicators measured in affordability is the states investment in need based aid. "For every dollar that the federal government puts in — in the form of PELL grants — Wisconsin puts in 62 cents," Finney says. "States that do much better on this particular measure are putting in almost 90 cents on the dollar. So, Wisconsin falls behind in terms of providing grant aid to its students."
The state also received poor grades for black residents participation in, and completion of, higher education. Twenty-one percent of Wisconsin's black young adults are enrolled in college, compared with 44 percent of whites, one of the largest gaps in the nation. Thirty three percent of blacks graduate college within six years, compared with 60 percent of whites, which is also one of the largest racial disparities in the nation.
Wisconsin gets just a "C" in the proportion of state adults with a bachelor's degree, about 27 percent. While that's just slightly below the national average, Finney notes that it's "way below to performing states," where about 37 percent of those 18-to-64 have at least a bachelors degree. Twelve percent of black Wisconsin residents have a bachelor's degree, compared with 30 percent of whites.
The report card is designed to be a diagnostic tool, according to Finney: "in each one of these graded areas . . . we identify key indicators of where the state is strong and where the state is weak."