Gov. Jim Hunt and UNC-system President Molly Broad expressed cautious optimism after the state's higher education system received mediocre grades in a national report.
They said the $3.1 billion higher education bond and other efforts will help the system improve its national standing.
Measuring Up 2000, a report released Nov. 30 by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, assessed each state's performance in six categories.
North Carolina received a "D" in participation, a "D-plus" for benefits to the state, a "B" for preparation, an "A" for affordability, a "B-plus" for completion and an incomplete for learning.
All states received an incomplete in the learning category, which aims to measure the knowledge that students acquire, because of a lack of usable data.
The center spent three years compiling data for this first issue of Measuring Up, said Thad Nodine, director of communications for the center.
"We've used independent advisers who are not affiliated with the center and feasibility committees to look at the basic areas of higher education and see if it was possible to compile enough data for them," Nodine said.
He said the learning category could not be compiled because there was no nationwide agreement on what students should learn in college.
Nodine said the participation grade addresses the proportion of the population taking part in the higher education system. He said a high level of participation also could improve a state's benefit rating -- the two categories in which North Carolina performed the worst.
"If more people have a bachelor's degree, then it would be more beneficial to the state," Nodine said.
Broad said access to the state's higher education institutions must be improved to increase the participation grade.
"It has been clear to us at the University that North Carolina does not have a level of educational attainment we can be proud of," Broad said.
In an interview with The Daily Tar Heel last week, Hunt said the $3.1 billion higher education bond will improve the low participation grade by building more facilities to accommodate an expected influx of 40,000 new students systemwide in the coming decade.
Hunt added that boosting the participation grade would help increase the state's benefits rating.
According to the report, the small percentage of N.C. residents having a bachelor's degree or doing well on high-level literacy assessments could have resulted in North Carolina receiving a "D-plus" in the benefits category.
Broad said improving access to higher education in the state is the number one goal of the Board of Governors.
She said the BOG set a goal in 1995 to reach the national average in college attendance rates by 2010.
The data compiled for participation looked at the percentage of N.C. students who enter college immediately after high school, adults aged 18-24 enrolled in higher education and the percentage of working-age adults attending college or other training programs.
Hunt said he views the report as constructive criticism.
"We can see a clear strategy for North Carolina to go way up the ladder on this," Hunt said.
"North Carolina has a lot of reasons to be proud and a lot of work ahead."
State & National Editor Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.
The State & National Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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