State Opportunity Index

Frequently Asked Questions

Strada researchers answer key questions about the State Opportunity Index, what it measures, and how it can be used by states and important stakeholders.


Why did Strada develop the State Opportunity Index?

The overarching reason was to give states and the nation a framework for measuring how well their education and employment systems are connecting education to opportunity. The first and most important step in that process was to identify five key areas in which organizations and leaders across all three sectors — public, private, and nonprofit — can work to improve equitable pathways to opportunity. From there, we developed a set of valid and attainable measures that states could use to map their progress in these five priority areas. The goal is that the State Opportunity Index is a first step in helping policymakers, educators, and business leaders measure and improve the connections between education and opportunity in their state.

Why does the report focus on bachelor’s and associate degrees? What about other kinds of post-high school training programs and credentials?

We recognize the importance of understanding the full spectrum of education and training programs after high school, but because of the limitations in data availability about participation in nondegree programs and other credentials and the associated employment outcomes, we were not able to reliably include them in this pilot report. We want to support the field in building these data resources so that future reports are more comprehensive.

How were the measures for each of the five priorities developed?

In the yearlong process of developing the prototype report, Strada worked with both strategic and technical advisory groups, as well as individual experts and leaders, to develop the measures included in the State Opportunity Index. This work is a tribute to their shared commitment to improving individual lives through education after high school.

How is Strada’s return on investment measure different from other measures of ROI?

The ROI measure was developed around the idea that everyone who invests their time, effort, and money in education after high school should be, at a minimum, able to boost their earnings by enough to pay back that investment in a reasonable amount of time. (For our measurement, that is within 10 years.) The ROI measure we use is not focused on maximizing ROI because our research with students indicates that once graduates surpass $50,000 in annual earnings, higher wages are not linked to increased perceptions of the value of their education. The measure also is not focused on the average or the median student or on a specific institution. Although multiple analyses show that on average, post-high school education is one of the best tools available for achieving economic mobility, what is true on average does not always translate to individual outcomes. The ROI measure we use reveals what percentage of students are experiencing positive value and what percent are not, uncovering the sizable portion of individuals who are not seeing their degrees translate into better outcomes.

How does the ROI measure relate to the five priorities?

While the ROI measure gives us one way of understanding who and how many graduates are seeing economic benefits from completing education after high school, the five priorities tell us what we can do to ensure more graduates experience those benefits.

How did you choose the jobs that are included in the supply/demand ratio?

The jobs on which the supply/demand ratio was based were determined by a range of factors, including: high employer demand in every state; high wage potential; upward career mobility potential; job resilience to automation; impact on overall economic growth; industry representativeness; greater representation early in workers’ careers; overall employment share; and the representative share of national job demand as defined by job postings.

Does the State Opportunity Index control for the fact that economic mobility and opportunity are closely correlated with the strength of the economy in states and metropolitan areas? 

The State Opportunity Index does not control for this factor, nor for other differences across states such as demographics, because the aim is not to grade institutions or to rank states against each other. Instead, the State Opportunity Index categorizes states according to their progress in meeting identified performance thresholds. The fact that many of these differences are outside the control of the public education institutions highlights the need for multiple stakeholders — the business community, policymakers, and education and training leaders — to work together in order to improve post-completion outcomes for students.

How should state leaders and policymakers use the State Opportunity Index?

State leaders and policymakers first should examine the fit between their public higher education systems and their state and local economies. The State Opportunity Index then can provide state leaders with a framework for improving both systems so they are more closely aligned and focused on strengthening education-to-employment pathways.  

Is the State Opportunity Index a ranking system? 

No, the State Opportunity Index categorizes states according to their progress in meeting identified performance thresholds. We aspire to support every state in performing at the highest level across every area, and states are not compared to one another nor ranked. They are assessed independently with regard to their own performance.

What stakeholder groups are you hoping to influence with the State Opportunity Index? 

We hope that policymakers, educators, employers, and funders use the report to guide their work and catalyze collective action to build a stronger connection between education after high school and equitable pathways to opportunity. 

How do you envision this report being used over time?

We anticipate annual updates to the report that track progress against each of the metrics. As stakeholders engage with this work and as data resources improve, we will have even greater ability to provide the information and insights needed to guide improvements in practice and policy that will ensure equitable pathways to opportunity for all students. 

What does this report have to say about whether college is worth it?

We believe that asking whether an education after high school is worth it is actually the wrong question. Instead, all of those involved — educators, employers, and funders — should be asking what we can do to ensure that all students have the support they need to make informed decisions about their careers and realize the full value of their education investment.