Professor Robert Kaestner
© University of Illinois
Good Education Policy is Good Health Policy
October 22, 2014 10:00 AM
By Robert Kaestner, University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs
Graduating from high school is associated with many benefits, but perhaps the biggest benefit is a longer life and better health. At age 25, men and women with a high school degree can expect to live to be 76 and 81 years old, respectively. In contrast, men and women without a high school degree can expect to live to only 69 and 75 years of age, respectively. In addition, those with high school educations are 50% more likely to report being in excellent or very good health than those who did not finish high school, and they are much less likely to be hospitalized and spend about half as many days in bed because of being sick than high school dropouts.
In light of these numbers, the statistics on high school graduation rates in the U.S. are rightfully thought of as dangerous. Nationally, 20% of students fail to graduate and among Black and Hispanic students, graduation rates are even lower: 69% and 73% respectively. Every child that does not graduate is potentially sacrificing 6.5 years of extra life--a huge loss of life and of human potential the country.
Any type of cost benefit analysis would suggest that preventing dropout would nearly pay for itself. Consider that people with a high school degree earn about $10,000 more per year than those who dropout, and because of the lower earnings, there is a significant loss of federal and state tax revenue. For example, in Illinois, my home state, the state loses $200 per year in income tax revenue. Over a 45 year period, this yearly loss represents a present value of nearly $5,000 to the state. The upshot is that efforts to prevent drop out will pay for themselves if modestly successful.
More importantly, investment in preventing a dropout would produce six to seven years of extra life at an extremely low cost. For example, Check and Connect is a successful dropout prevention program that costs about $5000, which would generate a cost of life year saved of $800 if successful. Even if it was successful only one-tenth of the time, the cost of life year saved would be only $8,000. There are few tests, prescription drugs, or health insurance plans that can generate a cost of life year saved in the same range as dropout prevention.
Robert Kaestner is a professor at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) of the University of Illinois. His work is an integration of research, education, and public engagement activities. Kaestner's academic research is concentrated in health, social, and labor policy.