Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From Kindergarten to College Completion

An interesting article on whether investing in early vs. later education makes a bigger impact:

A report released last week has drawn new attention to low degree-completion rates among college entrants, particularly among those who never attend full time. The organization that published the report, Complete College America, seeks to rally policy makers around the goal of substantially increasing completion rates by 2020.

But here's a question: if we want to increase college completions over the longer term, is it more cost-effective to direct resources to college students or to preschoolers and kindergarteners?

The influential economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman, among others, has asserted that early educational investments have the highest return, because of the cumulative nature of skill development ("skill begets skill"). By the time a high school student is on the verge of college (or an older worker is considering returning to school), this argument goes, it may be too expensive to try to fix skill deficiencies that trace back decades.

Yet the federal government continues to invest far more in higher education than in early childhood programs (see chart). For example, the Pell Grant program received more than $28 billion in 2009, compared with less than $10 billion for Head Start.

College Board, Department of Health and Human Services, Joint Committee on Taxation.

…Based on both theory and evidence, it is hard to argue that we're not underinvesting in early childhood education. Even policy makers who care only about college completion rates should be looking for promising interventions in the earliest years of life.


October 7, 2011, 6:00 am

From Kindergarten to College Completion


Judith Scott-Clayton is an assistant professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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