What Is The Value Of Education?
by Andrew Koved, fedu.org
My whole life I’ve been in love with 2 in 1’s, pocket knives that have tiny tweezers and scissors, and using my phone for its myriad of uses other than being able to place calls. Heck, if they made a 15 in 1 waffle iron, I’d probably buy it.
The idea that one item can be put to greater use than its original purpose strikes a very powerful chord. That I can use a book to prop a window open, to press flowers, and to act as a ruler means the utility of the book goes far beyond its original purpose as a way to read.
In economics, they call this a multiplier, where your one dollar that you spend or deposit in a bank gets turned into many more dollars. The more money you leave in your bank account, the more the bank can borrow from, and subsequently the more loans the bank can provide; this is called a money multiplier. Similarly spending money to buy an apple at the store gets divided into many different pockets, enabling the farmers to keep growing and employing workers and the store to keep buying fruit and hiring stockers. The power of your dollar is that it can be turned into so many more dollars, simultaneously; it is the all-in-one of the currency world.
This idea that one good can be utilized for many different purposes has lead me to think about education, and our need to fund it universally. Education is commonly thought about as just an accumulation of knowledge and facts, but higher education of any kind – liberal arts, vocational, technical– is about learning how to think not what to think. As such, gaining an education can be thought of as similar to a money multiplier. An education multiplier, if you will, is all the positive effects gained from getting an education, be they inventions, solved problems or crisis averted. The simple act of learning to read and write, count and divide, become transformed into the underlying tools by which people use to excel.
As a society we are always cost driven, trying to calculate the price of this, and quantifying that. The entire field of big data, which is taking the business world, is predicated on the fact that everything has value and deserves to be quantified. Education is no different, with the ubiquitous question “What is the value of an education?”, popping up in hallways of schools and government alike.
Education though is not tangible, there is no mineral worth, rather it is what education enables you to do that makes it valuable. In many ways, education is its own multi-tool, its own all-in-one, because the single act of learning gets transformed into every other facet of our lives.
Taking a step back and acknowledging that of the many challenges in the world cannot be solved immediately by education is important, setting realistic expectations is crucial for measuring true achievement. Education will not feed the world –technically you can eat a book, but it is awfully chewy– and warfare will not stop just by training to become a mechanic.
We often talk about wanting to make real change, to stop talking and start doing. What we really mean when we say this is that we want a quantifiable return, we want to be able to check off
a on a list that a task is definitively done. The problem is that education just does not work that way. We are always learning, and even the best higher education will only enable to learn more in depth and with greater vigor.
To all of the people who want statistically significant numbers and economic rationale about education, let me leave you with this mollification: the opportunity cost of not educating the world is far greater than of providing education. Opportunity cost is an economist term for the cost of the next best alternative, or as Derek Bok said “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.
When you deposit money into the bank, the money multiplier is thought to be about 1.5x. When you go to school, the educational multiplier is unknown, but thought to be limitless. Our future looks brightest as a planet when we recognize that everyone has potential and deserves an education.
Who knows, maybe the inventor of the 15-in-1 waffle maker is out there, just waiting to learn.
Andrew Koved runs social media for FEDU.org, a company dedicated to enabling education for all, and are working towards empowering education for underserved populations. He is also known to A/B test his sandwiches. Image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; The Value Of Education Is Infinity