Diminishing Returns and American Education

I was reading the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier in the day, and one of the articles struck me: it basically said that American education, in both its primary and post-secondary phases, is ignoring the law of diminishing returns. Namely, the article contends, money is being pumped into schools where it does not make any more noticeable or appreciable improvements. Case in point: Stanford raised the most amount of money last year, but because it is already extremely wealthy, those donations from its alumni are not going to make any kind of meaningful improvement for the campus. Similarly, those schools located in extremely-wealthy suburbs do not need the extra surplus tax-revenue, since any more money is not going to make a noticeable improvement.

Where those extra money could go a long way, or at least a lot longer way, is to schools that actually need the money. And this is one of the fundamental paradoxes of the American education system.

Schools desperately in need of more money are denied that funding because it does not test well-enough, but it does not test well-enough precisely because they do not have the funding. It’s a vicious circle that sees very little chance of breaking.

Conversely, for the richest schools, it takes money to raise money. All universities today, especially those with a lot of endowments, have used more and more money to develop their fund-raising networks, hiring professional consultants from the private sector and paying them a lot of money. In fact, raising money has become its own objective; it is now something unto itself.

And for those free-marketeers who argue that the present system is better than “socialized” education, well let me use a free-market against them. Spending more money on those who do not need it is a waste of investment resources.


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