The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) last week released its annual Leaders & Laggards report, providing a state-by-state report card of post-secondary education in the U.S.

Compared with other countries, the United States stands near the top in its nationwide percentage of college-educated adults. And, by most accounts, the country’s commitment to higher education has been a driver of economic success.

Beneath this impressive exterior, however, some significant cracks are evident.

According to the ICW, projections of labor market demand show that two-thirds of all jobs will require some post-secondary education by 2018; however, given today’s disappointing levels of higher education productivity, labor economists estimate that the United States will fall 7 million degrees short.

“While American employers increasingly struggle to find the talent they need to grow our economy, our youngest workers rank a disappointing 15th out of 34 industrialized countries in the percentage with a college diploma,” as noted in the Leaders & Laggards introduction.

This report identifies the best and worst performing states in public post-secondary education. It focuses on the performance of the institutions over which state governments have the most influence: public colleges and universities.

In an effort to systematically measure the most important factors being watched by policymakers, business leaders and citizens, the ICW graded state performance and policy in the following six areas: Student Access & Success, Efficiency & Cost-Effectiveness, Meeting Labor Market Demand, Transparency & Accountability, Policy Environment, and Innovation.

Overall, North Carolina ranked about average nationally for both four-year and two-year institutions, according to the report.

The state received an above average mark for Student Access & Success in four-year institutions, but was below average in Efficiency & Cost-Effectiveness in the same category. Two-year institutions were about average overall, and the state itself was about average in the Policy Environment, above average in Innovation when it comes to online learning efforts, but below average in openness to providers.

Here is North Carolina’s Report Card:

Student Access & Success

North Carolina’s four-year institutions received a good grade in this area, ranking above the national medians in retention rate, completion rate, and the percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants. North Carolina’s two- year institutions receive an average grade, brought down in particular by a low credentials produced per 100 full-time equivalent undergraduates score.

Efficiency & Cost-Effectiveness

North Carolina receives a very low grade for four-year institutions, with a cost per completion ($83,224) and state and local funding per completion ($65,107) that rank in the bottom 10 states. North Carolina’s two-year institutions also fare poorly, with a cost per completion ($62,533) and state and local funding per completion ($47,050), both well above the national medians of $57,210 and $35,476, respectively.

Meeting Labor Market Demand

The median wage of a North Carolina bachelor’s degree holder is approximately $18,500 (or 63 percent) more than the median wage of a high school graduate; the overall unemployment rate for a bachelor’s degree holder is almost 5.5 points lower. The median wage of an associate’s degree holder is approximately $8,500 (or 29 percent) more than the median wage of a high school graduate; the overall unemployment rate is about four points lower.

Transparency & Accountability

North Carolina receives average grades with a good score for its consumer information and public accountability resources. The state does not measure student learning outcomes, but the North Carolina Education and Training Consumer Guide provides employment and earnings information for graduates of the University of North Carolina System and North Carolina Community College System via a searchable portal.

Policy Environment

The UNC and NCCCS’ “SuccessNC” plan has targeted goals for student outcomes for both systems. While the UNC system does not have outcomes-based funding, the NCCCS does have a small incentive-funding program. The state’s articulation agreement allows students to transfer individual courses.


Both the UNC and NCCCS systems have robust online learning efforts that provide information on degree programs and individual courses. UNC-Online provides students with access to “e-mentors.” Regarding new providers, North Carolina has one of the most restrictive regulatory environments in the country, featuring high licensure fees and a burdensome approval process.

North Carolina has 16 public four-year institutions serving approximately 168,156 students, and 59 public two-year institutions serving 212,211.