As nations around the globe, including the United States, attempt to crawl out of a deep recession, evidence suggests they would be wise to invest in education because of the strong economic payoff it brings across their societies and to individual workers, a new report says.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reaches that conclusion in its newest “Education at a Glance” report, which compares educational and economic data across nations.
Encouraging students to stick with K-12 education and pursue higher education makes sense, the authors say, because unemployment is likely to remain high for some time and seeking additional in-school training brings strong financial benefits when compared to looking for a job that may not be there. According to the OECD’s data, a male worker who obtains a college education earns $186,000 more on average in gross earnings and benefits over a lifetime than a worker who does not in the industrialized nations studied.
In the United States, for American males who obtain a college education, the difference in the lifetime payoff is $367,000, according to the OECD, the highest gross-earnings payoff among the nations studied. It’s $229,000 for females.
While governments pour significant public funding into college education, private investment exceeds public spending in most of the nations studied, the Paris-based organization says. American students are asked to pay a greater amount—about $90,000, in direct costs and in indirect costs, such as lost earnings—than students in any other country evaluated. Tuition fees in the United States are also the highest of any country.
The data reveal that the value of higher education is significantly larger than the total public economic costs, Andreas Schleicher, the head of indicators and analysis for OECD’s education division, explained in an e-mail. Public investment in higher education bears high returns, he wrote, particularly in countries where high private costs may be the bottleneck for expanding higher education participation.
A version of this article appeared in the September 16, 2009 edition of Education Week