Transforming Public-Private Enterprises: Education
We often see dire assessments of our educational systems. K-12 is judged to be quite poor compared to other developed countries, as reflected in comparisons of educational achievements across countries. This is particularly true for STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. More broadly, our high school graduation rate of roughly two thirds means that one third of young adults are woefully under educated.
Higher education appears to deliver better results. Our graduate schools still dominate the international rankings. However, the costs of higher education continue to escalate – tuition in public institutions in many states is doubling every five years. This is due to steadily declining support for public education by state legislatures. This is also much evidence of “mission creep” and administrative bloat with an ever-increasing number of associate vice provosts and similar titles.
What is wrong and what needs to change? These questions can be addressed using the three core transformation constructs introduced earlier – stakeholders, incentives, and entitlements. There certainly are lots of stakeholders in education, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, employers, politicians and taxpayers. There are many conflicts among the interests of these stakeholders, including the costs and benefits seen from their various perspectives.
It seems reasonable to assert that there are many instances where high quality education has resulted for well-prepared and motivated students, involved and supportive parents, well-trained and motivated teachers, and administrators, employers, politicians, and taxpayers willing to invest the necessary resources in these types of students, parents, and teachers. This equation works well in some parts of the country, but does not work in general.
The overarching difficulties are that many students are not well prepared and motivated, many parents cannot be involved and supportive, and not all teachers are well trained, especially to teach ill-prepared, unmotivated, and unsupported students. Further, high quality education can be expensive, particularly when small class sizes and one-on-one tutoring are needed.
Taxpayers are unwilling to make such investments. In fact, they may be unable giving the increasing costs of healthcare (e.g., Medicaid) and prisons in most states. Yet, a lack of education leads to poor health practices. Lack of education also leads to unemployment and crime. Thus, not investing in education now results in much higher costs later.
One can argue, therefore, that we have a traditional investment problem. We need to invest now for later returns in terms of lower costs of healthcare and criminal justice, as well as increased tax revenues from healthy, educated citizens. But, the investments are needed now and the returns will accrue years later. No one seems to “own” that future.
Alternatively, the effective discount rate Americans apply to that future is so high that negative consequences are highly discounted, at least psychologically. Transformation, therefore, does not make sense. Current stakeholders will not accept the near-term pain of diminished entitlements and long-term stakeholders are not at the table. There is no sense of urgency.