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The benefits of investment in education is one of the most robust findings in social science. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the impact of education on earnings, health, family formation, civic participation, happiness and other life outcomes. This has led researchers and policymakers to call for a renewal and expansion of public investment in higher education, for example through ‘free college’ plans proposed in many U.S. states and countries around the world.
Yet despite the demonstrated economic value of education, we have varying ideas about why education is so important. This talk will review what is known about the returns to education, and argue that the workhorse ‘human capital model’ is an incomplete description of the value of education for social mobility and human welfare. Understanding what education does is necessary for important policy questions, such as who will gain the most from investments in education, which policy levers are most effective, and how we should design educational systems for the future of work in the 21st century.
David Deming is a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Director of the Harvard Inequality and Social Policy Program, and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses broadly on the economics of skill development, education and labor markets. He is currently serving as a coeditor at the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, and is a Principal Investigator (along with Raj Chetty and John Friedman) at the CLIMB Initiative, an organisation that seeks to study and improve the role of higher education in social mobility. He recently won the David N. Kershaw Prize, which is awarded biannually to scholars who have made distinguished contributions to the field of public policy and management under the age of 40.