IZA DP No. 4086: Estimating the Social Value of Higher Education: Willingness to Pay for Community and Technical Colleges
revision published in: Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, 2014, 5 (1), 3-42
Much is known about private returns to education in the form of higher earnings. Less is known about social value, over and above the private, market value. Associations between education and socially-desirable outcomes are strong, but disentangling the effect of education from other causal factors is challenging. The purpose of this paper is to estimate the social value of one form of higher education. We elicit willingness to pay for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System directly through a stated-preferences survey and compare our estimate of total social value to our estimates of private value in the form of increased earnings. Our earnings estimates are based on two distinct data sets, one administrative and one from the U.S. Census. The difference between the total social value and the increase in earnings is our measure of the education externality. Our work differs from previous research by eliciting values directly in a way that yields a total value including any external benefits and by focusing on education at the community college level. Our preferred estimate indicates the social value of expanding the system substantially exceeds private value by approximately 50 percent.