Industrial Insight

What does our investment in education buy? | February 16, 2012

http://www.forbes.com/sites/louiswoodhill/2012/02/15/solyndras-in-the-classroom-how-we-vastly-overrate-education/

Louis Woodhill, Contributor

2/15/2012 @ 3:22PM |987 views

Solyndras In the Classroom: How We Vastly Overrate Education

What follows is a “first approximation analysis”. The numbers could be done with more precision, but they are good enough to give us an idea of what the nation has been getting (actually, not getting) for its massive “investments” in education.

Assuming that about 25% of our total population is in school at any one time, average real (2010 dollars) government spending per student rose from $1,763 in 1951 to $12,209 in 2009. This is an increase of about 7 times. Assuming an average of 13 years of education per student (some go to college, some drop out of high school), this means that during this 58-year time period, we increased our real “investment” in the human capital represented by each student from $22,913 to $158,717.

Meanwhile, we have also been investing more in physical capital. Real nonresidential produced assets per worker increased from $79,278 in 1951 to $206,717 in 2009. So, each worker in 2009 had $127,439 more in physical capital and $135,804 more in educational “capital” to work with than he did in 1951.

Unfortunately, it is clear from the numbers that GDP tracks only physical assets, and not the sum of physical assets and educational “assets”. Excluding the GDP produced by the housing stock, the ratio of GDP to nonresidential produced assets has been essentially constant over the 59 years 1951–2009 (it has oscillated with the business cycle around a midpoint of 48.2%).

So, it appears that our massive “investments” in education have produced no measurable economic return. Should we be surprised by this? No. Average scores on standardized tests have not risen, despite the fact that we are “investing” seven times as much in real terms in each student than we did six decades ago. So, even by the measures used by the educational establishment, it is clear that the higher spending has not created any additional human capital.

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I'm the executive vice president for a steel casting trade association, the Steel Founders' Society of America. I've got a crazy wife, five crazy children, three crazy people that married into the family, and two crazy fun little grandsons.

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