Higher Education Funding & Economic Productivity – Negative Correlation

Stephen noted this study on Higher Education Facts and Fiction by Prof. Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University. Inside Higher Ed provides an overview of the report and some of the controversy around statements that higher education may not be such a boon to the economy:

Looking at all 50 states over more than 20 years and using at least 1,000 data points, the study found that more state funding to higher education doesn’t necessarily lead to higher growth, and in fact correlates negatively with high growth rates. Building on previous research – which Vedder has done over the years on the topic – the study operates under the theory that students will take some time between the years they enroll and the moment they contribute fully to the economic growth of society. The study looks at three intervals – 5, 10 and 15 years – between the “input” of state funding levels in a particular year and the economic output that comes as a result of students’ education and development later on in life. And instead of finding the kind of positive correlation between increases in state funds and economic impact that colleges like to talk about, he found the opposite.

Higher education is not the engine of economic growth as some would have us believe. For instance, Canadians have the highest rates of formal education in the world, but most studies do not show us as the most productive.  Many more Canadians feel that a university education is not necessary to succeed at work than those who do.

Universities may not be the best organisations for us to entrust our economic future. Here’s Chris Sessum’s view of the ivory tower:

The more I think about it, the more I come to see universities as the last place to change what they do. Academics are mostly a reactionary, turf-protective bunch that really don’t like change. When I give talks and demonstrations to colleagues in higher education re: the power of the Read/Write Web, I often feel like Plato’s allegorical friend who shows others that they are looking at shadows on the cave wall and not what’s really going on outside. They laugh and tut-tut and a few approach me when no one is looking (usually via email) and ask if I could come over and show them more in the privacy of their office or home.

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