Investments in College Completion

October 7, 2011

At present, we appear to be more interested in talking about college completion than we are in making investments to increase college completions.  But suppose we did want to make such investments:  which ones would be most efficient and effective?

On the New York Times Economix blog this morning, Judith Scott-Clayton, an Assistant Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, provides a very helpful overview of what research tells us about that question.  On the whole, it appears that investments in early childhood education are more effective, dollar for dollar, than investments in additional financial aid for college goers.  Summarizing a good deal of sophisticated research on a variety of pre-school programs, she acknowledges that the test scores of children who have the advantage of such programs fall back in a few years to be no better than the scores without such programs, but she adds that “a consistent and fascinating pattern in all of these studies is that [while] early effects on test scores tend to fade over time, [they] re-emerge as effects on college-going and other adult outcomes.”

She does note that some well-targeted investments in those “on the brink of college,” such as providing assistance in filling out the FAFSA form to receive financial aid may be even more effective.  And she notes that effective pre-school programs tend to be expensive — but also worth the investment both to the individual and to society.

She concludes, “There appear to be opportunities for cost-effective investment all along the educational continuum.”

So do we want to just talk about college completion, or do we want to do something?


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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