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Calculating the Social Costs of Low Graduation Rates

On October 24 and 25, 2005, the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, will host the first annual symposium on educational equity: “The Social Costs of Inadequate Education.” Distinguished scholars will present their research documenting the enormous costs of failing to educate millions of American students to the level of high school graduation. According to the Campaign, the social costs of failing to educate major sectors of society include sacrifice of national income, productivity, and tax revenues, as well as the public costs of impaired health, crime, homelessness, and a new generation of at-risk students. The symposium will close with a session discussing ways to reduce these costs through educational policy and program improvements.

The Campaign for Educational Equity

The Campaign for Educational Equity, launched in June by Teachers College, grew out of a two-year internal examination of the goals and overall mission of the college. Dedicated to exposing and closing the achievement gap between the country's advantaged and disadvantaged students, the Campaign is a logical extension of the founding mission of Teachers College, which was created over a hundred years ago to train teachers who would help immigrant children become well-educated.

By bringing together a number of renowned scholars to present diverse examinations of a unifying and fundamentally important topic, the Campaign hopes to use concrete research to bring educational equity to the forefront of the education agenda while offering ways to achieve it.

Symposium Topics

The symposium, organized by Henry M. Levin of Teachers College, will feature an impressive list of presenters, including Clive R. Belfield of Queens College, Ronald F. Ferguson of Harvard University, Enrico Moretti of University of California, Berkeley, Richard Rothstein of Teachers College, and Marta Tienda of Princeton University. Many of the presenters are economists who have calculated the costs of failing to prepare our children to become meaningful participants in society.

Each of these experts will present research on one of several areas that absorb the most profound impact from the failure to adequately educate so many American students. For example, the difference in income between a high school dropout and a high school graduate (not to mention a college graduate) represents not only hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost earnings for that person, but also thousands of dollars in sacrificed tax revenue. Existing tax revenue also must be stretched further to cover the costs of health care or housing assistance for these low-income workers and their families, or to cover the costs of maintaining the criminal justice system and the welfare system—all of which high school dropouts are far more likely to need than their academically successful counterparts. These costs are often incurred by successive generations, who face inadequate schools in their communities.

These presentations will be bookended by a session covering the background of the topic and a session to determine a “future agenda to reduce inequities and inadequate education.” By thoroughly examining the myriad ways inadequate education impacts society as a whole, the symposium will provide a piercing look into the challenges that face the Campaign for Educational Equity. As symposium chair Professor Henry Levin states, "We live in an age when it seems that altruistic arguments aren't sufficient to persuade society to invest in educational equity. Many people will only be swayed by a sound business case. We believe the research presented at our Symposium will make that case by showing Americans what all of us pay over the long-term when we fail to educate other people's children."

The symposium will also feature an invitation-only third day. Attendees will include legislators, foundation and business leaders, and policymakers who will develop an action agenda to put the Symposium's findings to work.

Registration for the symposium is still open. You can register online or call 866-92-EQUAL. There is a $25 registration fee.

Prepared by Nelly Ward, September 9, 2005