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Research on Long-Term Benefits of Early Education Finds Greatest Return on Investment Yet

Research on Long-Term Benefits of Early Education Finds Greatest Return on Investment Yet

New research from the University of Chicago and University of Southern California Schaeffer Center has found that investing in early education might be a greater investment into the country’s future workforce than previously thought.

Led by University of Chicago professor James J. Heckman, also a Nobel Laureate in economics, Heckman and his colleagues set out to describe in The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Education Program "the large array of life-cycle benefits of an influential early childhood program targeted to disadvantaged children."

Specifically, the researchers looked at two early childhood programs in North Carolina and found "high-quality birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children can deliver a return on investment of $13 for every $1 spent per child, per year through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors and employment," said Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) in a release.

The researchers analyzed two identical, random-controlled preschool studies done in both programs in the 1970s that collected data on the students' cognitive and socio-emotional skills, home environments, family structure, and family economic characteristics until the age of 8 and then collected similar data from the children at ages 12, 15, 21 and 30. 

They found that exposure to a quality early education program positively affected heath indicators (including drug use and hypertension), employment and labor income.

The researchers also used supplementary data, such as criminal outcomes obtained from public records and self-reported crime data to get a full idea on just how beneficial quality early education is on quality of life.

All in all, Heckman and his team found an improvement on the return on investment attached to early education; previous research conducted indicated a $7 return on investment for every $1 spent.

SCAN hopes the research will encourage the incoming Trump administration to remain vigilant on the issue of increasing the quality of and access to early education on a national level.

"We already knew that early childhood education is a smart investment that will make our kids, families and communities stronger. This research confirms that and shows an even higher return on investment," said Mark Shriver, President of SCAN in a statement.

"Despite this, too many kids in the U.S. do not have access to high-quality early learning programs, and many never catch up to their peers. We encourage the incoming Trump Administration to provide robust funding for federal early childhood education programs so more kids have the opportunity to have a strong start in life," he said.

Read more about Heckman’s research here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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