WHEN AT-RISK YOUTH SUCCEED EDUCATIONALLY, WE ALL WIN
By: Professor Henry M. Levin
We all know that if we can turn a potential high school dropout
into a graduate, that individual is likely to have better employment,
income, and health as well as the prospects of going to college.
But, sometimes we also hear that this is a good investment for society
because high school graduates pay more taxes and reduce the costs
of public health, public assistance, and crime.
A group of economists at the Center for Benefit Cost Studies in
Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, decided to test
the idea that improving the education of at risk students is also
a good financial investment for the taxpayer and society. Clive
Belfield, Peter Meunnig, Cecilia Rouse, and I collaborated on a
study to compare the public benefits and costs of investing more
in high school completion.
First, we searched for programs that demonstrated beyond a reasonable
doubt that they would increase high school graduation. Many programs
make such claims, but lack proof. We found five different programs
that showed these results convincingly. Two programs emphasized
high quality preschools for at risk youngsters. One program reduced
class size in the early grades from 24 students to 15 students.
One approach evaluated teacher salaries to get a larger pool of
talented teachers. And one provided a special high school program
with caring teachers, smaller classes, frequent counselling, and
regular assessment of progress.
Second, we measured the cost of each program for each additional
graduate expected. Third, we obtained statistical data sets that
enabled us to determine additional earnings and tax payments of
graduates relative to high school dropouts as well as the reductions
in costs of public assistance payments, public health costs, and
costs of criminal justice. When we compared the costs of the programs
for each new graduate produced with the additional tax revenues
and reductions in the costs to the taxpayer of public assistance,
public health, and crime, we found that the benefits to the taxpayer
far exceeded the costs. Typically, for every dollar of expenditures
on these programs, some three dollars were returned to the taxpayer
in benefits. Another way of calculating the benefits after costs
are taken into account is that each expected dropout who graduates
will provide the equivalent of a gift of $127,000 at age 20 to society
in public benefits over his or her lifetime.
Our conclusion is that paying for effective programs to reduce dropouts
is good not only for the new high school graduate, but also for
the taxpayer and society. The study can be found at (www.cbcse.org).