May 18, 2015

Marvin Lazerson, +498022662345 (Germany),
Daniel Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Unconstrained faith in education's economic power lacks evidentiary base, review finds

EAST LANSING, Mich. (May 18, 2015) – A recent report from the Hamilton Project sought to study how public investment in education will further long-term prosperity, economic growth, and individual economic security.  The inquiry focused on whether or not a bachelor's degree or higher education would increase economic prosperity and reduce economic inequality.  A review of the report released today finds that it oversimplifies the importance of college degrees in boosting the economy, while rejecting the widely held view that education can substantially reduce economic inequality.

Marvin Lazerson, professor of higher education policy at Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, and emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Ryan Pfleger, a doctoral student in Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice at the University of Colorado Boulder, reviewed Increasing Education: What it Will and Will Not Do for Earnings and Earnings Inequality for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report examines three possible components of education's economic power: (1) education is the critical factor in creating sustainable economic prosperity; (2) college and advanced degrees increase earnings power for individuals; and (3) a broad base of increased educational attainment will narrow income inequality.

In the review, the authors find that the report and its assertions are straightforward and use an empirically-based simulation for future projections.  However, the report has several limitations.

Specifically, Lazerson and Pfleger find the following insufficiencies:

  1. there is little direct evidence in the report to show that increasing educational attainment is the most "efficient and effective," as the report describes, way to improve prosperity;
  2. the data are drawn are only from males, with no attention paid to gender, race, field of study, labor-market conditions, or institutional reputation; and
  3. no data were analyzed to evaluate other ways to address economic problems.

The reviewers note that the findings of the report are illuminating, "because more schooling increases, on average, the income of individuals in comparison to those not receiving advanced schooling." However, the reviewers contend that more direct actions are necessary, and the use of schools as a lever to improve economic conditions is an indirect method.

The reviewers conclude, "Claiming that the primary solution to a wide array of economic problems is to improve ‘human capital,' the report perpetuates a problematic myth that undervalues alternative ways to address poverty and economic insecurity."

Read his full review at:

Find Increasing Education: What it Will and Will Not Do for Earnings and Earnings Inequality on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

- ### -

Friend on Facebook

Follow on Twitter

The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

Visit the Great Lakes Center website at