# Take 2: What’s the Value of a High School Education?

Apropos of my post yesterday about the true market price of a college education, which I pegged at around \$75,000 per year, Matt Steinglass makes the point that although this is the value of higher education to society, it’s not necessarily the perceived market value to students themselves. Not all of them, anyway. Without federal aid, an awful lot of kids just flatly wouldn’t be able to afford this much or wouldn’t be willing to take out \$300,000 in loans to get a degree. That might be irrational in a pure economic sense, but it’s probably true nonetheless. So if higher education were provisioned on a pure free market basis, it would probably result in a net loss of welfare to society at large.

To give this some more punch, Matt tries to apply the same logic to high school. After correctly deducing how I got my \$300,000 estimate (it’s the amount that produces the supposed million-dollar value of a college education if it’s invested at 3% per year for 40 years), he takes a crack at figuring out how much a high school diploma is worth on the open market:

If I’m doing my math right [], it’s about \$67,500. So we’re talking four years of high-school tuition at almost \$17,000 a year. And, again, this is probably significantly low-balling the real value of that degree.

How many American parents can pay \$17,000 a year per kid for their kids to go to high school? Say this math overestimates the present value of the degree, and the actual figure is only \$10,000. How many parents could afford to pay that? How many can borrow that much on the private market? How many would be willing to, if they could? What percentage of American kids would graduate from high school if they or their parents had to pay the full future value of their education up front? Currently 70% of Americans graduate from high school; imagine that percentage dropped to even 50%. And here’s the money question: How much poorer would America be, how much lower would our GDP be, if only 50% of Americans graduated from high school? I think this is the way we need to think about the value of government subsidies for, and/or cost controls on, and/or provision of low-cost Skype-enhanced alternatives to universal college education.

Pretty much everyone agrees that high school ought to be universal. The value to society of having everyone get at least that minimum amount of education is worth the money we put into it. And yet, if it were a pure free market function, high school attendance would plummet. This would almost certainly not be the optimal outcome for society.

It’s not quite as obvious to most people, but the same is likely true of higher education. You might or might not believe that everyone should go to college, or even that we should be trying to encourage more kids to go to college. But it would almost certainly be a net negative for society if college graduation rates declined by a third. That’s why subsidized higher education is worth it, even if it irks you to shovel taxpayer dough to a bunch of snot-nosed kids so that they can earn higher salaries in the future. Having a big pool of college-educated workers is worth a lot to society, probably more than a free market by itself would provide. This is your tax dollars at work.

### WE'LL BE BLUNT

It is astonishingly hard keeping a newsroom afloat these days, and we need to raise \$253,000 in online donations quickly, by October 7.

The short of it: Last year, we had to cut \$1 million from our budget so we could have any chance of breaking even by the time our fiscal year ended in June. And despite a huge rally from so many of you leading up to the deadline, we still came up a bit short on the whole. We can’t let that happen again. We have no wiggle room to begin with, and now we have a hole to dig out of.

Readers also told us to just give it to you straight when we need to ask for your support, and seeing how matter-of-factly explaining our inner workings, our challenges and finances, can bring more of you in has been a real silver lining. So our online membership lead, Brian, lays it all out for you in his personal, insider account (that literally puts his skin in the game!) of how urgent things are right now.

The upshot: Being able to rally \$253,000 in donations over these next few weeks is vitally important simply because it is the number that keeps us right on track, helping make sure we don't end up with a bigger gap than can be filled again, helping us avoid any significant (and knowable) cash-flow crunches for now. We used to be more nonchalant about coming up short this time of year, thinking we can make it by the time June rolls around. Not anymore.

Because the in-depth journalism on underreported beats and unique perspectives on the daily news you turn to Mother Jones for is only possible because readers fund us. Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism we exist to do. The only investors who won’t let independent, investigative journalism down are the people who actually care about its future—you.

And we need readers to show up for us big time—again.

Getting just 10 percent of the people who care enough about our work to be reading this blurb to part with a few bucks would be utterly transformative for us, and that's very much what we need to keep charging hard in this financially uncertain, high-stakes year.

If you can right now, please support the journalism you get from Mother Jones with a donation at whatever amount works for you. And please do it now, before you move on to whatever you're about to do next and think maybe you'll get to it later, because every gift matters and we really need to see a strong response if we're going to raise the \$253,000 we need in less than three weeks.

### WE'LL BE BLUNT

It is astonishingly hard keeping a newsroom afloat these days, and we need to raise \$253,000 in online donations quickly, by October 7.

The short of it: Last year, we had to cut \$1 million from our budget so we could have any chance of breaking even by the time our fiscal year ended in June. And despite a huge rally from so many of you leading up to the deadline, we still came up a bit short on the whole. We can’t let that happen again. We have no wiggle room to begin with, and now we have a hole to dig out of.

Readers also told us to just give it to you straight when we need to ask for your support, and seeing how matter-of-factly explaining our inner workings, our challenges and finances, can bring more of you in has been a real silver lining. So our online membership lead, Brian, lays it all out for you in his personal, insider account (that literally puts his skin in the game!) of how urgent things are right now.

The upshot: Being able to rally \$253,000 in donations over these next few weeks is vitally important simply because it is the number that keeps us right on track, helping make sure we don't end up with a bigger gap than can be filled again, helping us avoid any significant (and knowable) cash-flow crunches for now. We used to be more nonchalant about coming up short this time of year, thinking we can make it by the time June rolls around. Not anymore.

Because the in-depth journalism on underreported beats and unique perspectives on the daily news you turn to Mother Jones for is only possible because readers fund us. Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism we exist to do. The only investors who won’t let independent, investigative journalism down are the people who actually care about its future—you.

And we need readers to show up for us big time—again.

Getting just 10 percent of the people who care enough about our work to be reading this blurb to part with a few bucks would be utterly transformative for us, and that's very much what we need to keep charging hard in this financially uncertain, high-stakes year.

If you can right now, please support the journalism you get from Mother Jones with a donation at whatever amount works for you. And please do it now, before you move on to whatever you're about to do next and think maybe you'll get to it later, because every gift matters and we really need to see a strong response if we're going to raise the \$253,000 we need in less than three weeks.