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Investing in educational interventions that raise student achievement and attainment produces significant returns-for individuals and society. A new Alliance report, Investing in the Education of Older Students: A Summary of the Evidence, presents the conclusions of noted economists who looked at this question for the Alliance, as well as a compilation of additional research from other sources.

The economists studied the Alliance’s Framework for an Excellent Education for all Middle School and High Schools Students that was released in Every Child a Graduate. The report lays out the Alliance’s recommendations to Congress and the President for initiatives to improve the educational outcomes of America’s 6 million middle and high school students who are at risk of failure. Four research-based initiatives defined in the report would, if effectively implemented, go a long way toward assuring that every secondary school student in the nation could graduate from high school with the skills necessary to succeed in college and life.

The Alliance estimates that the implementation of its recommendations on a national level would cost $2,400 per student annually, in grades nine through 12. Policymakers, elected officials, educators, the media, and a concerned public naturally want to know whether such an investment would be worth the costs.

To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of its initiatives, the Alliance commissioned two economic studies. Using conservative projections, these studies indicate that the economic benefits produced by a new federal commitment to quality high school education, even if it achieved only modest outcomes, would be at least 10 to 20 times greater than the investment cost.

The assessment conducted by economists Dan Goldhaber and Dan Player of the University of Washington determined that if the new interventions succeeded in increasing the retention rate of potential dropouts by just one year, they would generate $91,533 in discounted benefits and as much as $205,533 in undiscounted benefits.

Lifetime Earnings and Non-wage Benefits of an Additional Year of School


Return on Investment (Discounted) Return on Investment (Undiscounted)
Wage benefits of an additional year of school



Nonwage benefits of an additional year of school



Total benefits of an additional year of school




Source: Analytical Framework for Assessing the Potential Return on a Federal Investment in the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Every Child a Graduate (Goldhaber and Player)

A second study, Public and Private Benefits of Education for At-Risk Youth and the Alliance for Excellent Education Framework, by Duncan Chaplin of the Urban Institute, suggests a smaller yield in discounted benefits of between $21,936 and $76,850. Both studies indicate, however, that federal adoption of the four-part Framework for an Excellent Education, if it is successful in meeting its goals, would produce-at the very least-an average return on investment of more than 100 percent. These studies show that investing at the federal level in effective high school programs is not just the right thing to do, it is a sound investment that will yield direct benefits for individual students, their communities, and the economy as a whole.

The Goldhaber/Player and Chaplin papers mainly focus on the private benefits-the direct benefits to the student-of investing in the Alliance’s Framework. However, Investing in the Education of Older Students: A Summary of the Evidence also reviews outside research that examines the additional societal benefits of investing in education. Although these studies are not comprehensive and do not provide quantification in the same manner as the reports that the Alliance commissioned, they do provide anecdotal evidence that supports the conclusion that the benefits outweigh the costs.

The Alliance report finds that the nation is failing to invest strategically and comprehensively in programs that guarantee quality education for low-performing middle and high school students. Without this support, many of these students drop out and find themselves without a high school diploma and unprepared for a successful career, creating huge costs for individual citizens, their communities, and the American economy.

However, if every child graduates, all students will have access to good jobs and good salaries. Cities and states will receive tax revenue from higher earnings, and companies and organizations can gain access to employees with the knowledge and skills required to compete effectively in the 21st century workplace. By investing in the untapped potential of low-performing secondary school students, we will provide them with opportunities to succeed and create societal benefits that will last for generations to come.

All three reports… (Out of Print)

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.