2003 October 07 Tuesday
Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs

Education costs too much. The costs of education are rising faster than the economy as a whole. This is not sustainable in the long run. At the same time, the economic returns on all this education are questionable because quite a lot of what is taught has little economic value. Plus, time spent in school is time not spent working, saving, and paying taxes.

Costs of education have been rising and are projected to continue to rise at unsustainable rights. (PDF format)

The rise in the burden of education is similar. Education costs per student rose 2.6 percent per year over the past two decades. In addition, the fraction of 18 to 22-year-olds going to college is rising by about two percent per year. The couple’s children’s expected use of educational resources reaches a maximum when she is 44 and he is 46, at $32,000 per year, when their annual incomes are $136,000.

The costs of education at the college level are especially steep.

In 2001, K-12 spending was $8,600 per student and college spending was $31,000.

I propose a straightforward reform: accelerate the education of youth. Get people thru school and out into the job market at an earlier age. A smaller first step incremental reform would be to encourage really bright children to start taking college courses during the summer while they are still in high school. If they do well they should be encouraged to start college a year or two earlier. By spending time in summer college classes and by starting college at a younger age kids could get out of college from one to four years sooner depending on their motivation and level of intelligence.

This reform would reduce the total amount of money spent on education. It would also send youth out into the job market sooner. This would reduce the total costs of child-raising to parents and also turn the kids into taxpayers sooner. An entry into the workforce at an earlier age would, for most people, increase the total number of years spent as taxpayers and so they'd pay more in lifetime taxes while simultaneously reducing the amount they receive in benefits provided by both governments and parents. All-year-round education would also increase the utilization rates of the capital invested in the bricks, mortar, furniture, books, and other physical infrastructure of schools.

The birth dearth and rising life expectancies are combining to create demands on future government spending that are far in excess of what current tax rates can finance. There are political limits to how high taxes can be raised because, well, the vast majority of us quite reasonably don't want to spend most of our lives working for the government. By accelerating the pace of education to move people into the workforce at an earlier age we will simultaneously reduce the cost of child-raising, lower the cost of education, and increase the total amount of revenue generated from taxes while also increasing the total length of working life available in which to save for retirement.

Another likely salutary effect of accelerated education will be to increase the birth rate. Long numbers of years spent in school is selecting against reproduction. Reduce the number of years spent in school and people will have children sooner and they will have more children on average. Those people who delay child-raising because of a longer period spent in school and who therefore have fewer children are also, on average, higher income earners who pay more taxes. Therefore they are the ones who are most able to pay for the raising of their own children without recourse to government programs for medical and other assistance. Those are the people we should want to be having children. High income taxpayers should have more children sooner. But in order for that to happen they need to enter the labor market sooner. In order to make that happen they need to study 12 months of the year when growing up and get thru college years sooner than is current practice.

One objection that can be made to my argument is that people in high school and college often work during summers and so they are partially in the labor market before graduation. Yes, but they work at lower skilled, lower productivity, and lower wage jobs than the kinds of jobs they will do once they graduate from college (and if not then why the heck are we spending so much money on colleges to teach them?). Training that raises economic value of labor should come sooner in a child's life and should come more rapidly.

Train for job skills first: There is an argument to be made for the idea that if, say, a person is going to become an engineer then that person should take the courses specific to the job skill of engineering before taking general education courses. That way, if the student is going to work while in school then at least in the later years of education the part-time job worked at while still in school could pay more and produce more than if the productivity-enhancing classes came more toward the end of the college educational experience.

Note that my proposal does not require legislation or policy decisions by governments to start to be put into practice. People who live near colleges could start seeing about summer course offerings for their early teen children. Courses that are in essential sequences for later courses such as math and science courses would be particularly valuable. Also, the course matter of math and science courses tends to be more objective and a tougher test of a child's ability to handle college-level work. If a 14 or 15 or 16 year old kid does poorly the transcripts don't have to be forwarded to other colleges and the courses can always be retaken. If the kid does well then great. Valuable knowledge and skills will be acquired and time and money saved in the future.

Update: Some object to my proposal by arguing that teachers do not want to teach in the summer. That is not a problem. First off, to accelerate education we must automate education and make it far less labor intensive. Pre-recorded high res videos of college lectures are essential. Have a choice of 1000 different people teaching first year college calculus. Have a choice of another 1000 teachers doing college physics lectures. Ditto for hundreds or even thousands of other courses.

Currently the same courses get taught again and again. Most of the teachers are nowhere near as good as the best of the teachers. But if many get video recorded people will be able to compare notes in online review rating systems on which explanation of, for example, elementary statistics is best. Or who is best at intro macroeconomics? Or who is best at digital logic design?

State university systems could record their classes and then trade lecture series with other state universities. Then these classes could be made viewable by the high school students in each state. How fast you learn will become in large part a function of how many hours you will sit yourself in front of a computer screen to watch lectures and to take practice tests on the web.

Update II: The other essential part of accelerated education is testing for certifications separated from taking of classes. Be able to go into a room to take proctored tests. The test supervisors would have a large assortment of tests available for you to take. You'd say "I want to test for freshman year physics" or "I want to test for organic chemistry" and the proctors would either print out a test or bring it up on a computer screen. Then off you go taking the test while they watch. It should be possible to take hundreds of different tests this way. The tests could be administered at a high school, community college, university, or a rented conference room in a hotel.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 October 07 12:48 AM  Education

vinod said at October 7, 2003 8:44 AM:

I actually really like this idea Randall - another reason: Get kids out of "Soft America" and into "Hard America" ASAP. A lot of folks will learn a lot more with far more future taxpayer relevance in the 'real world' rather than chicano studies.

Fly said at October 7, 2003 11:27 AM:

I agree with Randall that the US educational system is becoming increasingly ill suited for a modern information society.

I agree that bright students should be allowed to take college courses before completing high school. This has been occurring in some high schools for over thirty years. I “placed out” of my first year at Rice University based on my performance on Advanced Placement tests in science, math, chemistry, physics, and English. A few of my fellow students took classes at their local universities while in high school.

Too often our schools are using inefficient methods and teaching outdated skills. Partly this is due to cultural inertia. Partly it is due to an entrenched power structure. As an example the university system is set up to benefit the university, not society. The main power of the university is to award degrees. As long as those degrees are highly valued the university can dictate educational parameters. (The prestige of the university greatly adds value. The best students and best professors go to the best universities so potential employers put the highest value on degrees from the most prestigious universities.)

The Internet provides an alternative to a university education. There are excellent online texts, tutorials, and multimedia presentations for all basic university subjects. However there is no accepted accreditation system. How may an employer trust that a self-taught applicant is qualified? In the information technology field more companies are depending on special certificates of accreditation. It doesn’t matter how you learn the material, only that you pass the test. If accreditation tests become common in many fields the university degree may become less valued. Universities might lose their strangle hold on career success.

Modern jobs require life-long learning. Businesses require demonstrated competency in specialized fields. How could the US educational system be revised to meet the changed circumstances of the information age? Training and testing in specialized fields is now available through the Internet. High schools and universities should no longer be the major dispensers of education and degrees. If one could start fresh how might an information age educational system be organized?

Ages 4-6:
Three teachers share a class and stay with the same students over the entire period.
Socialization and babysitting: Sharing, cooperation, responsibility.
Training: Alphabet, basic reading, and arithmetic. Introductory computer skills.

Ages 7-10:
As above, three teachers guide the same students through the age levels.
Socialization: Teamwork, leadership, competition.
Training: Reading comprehension. Writing stories and essays. Using the Internet to search for information and check facts. Simple math set theory, logic, word problems.

Ages 11-13:
Three advisors share responsibility for each student.
Socialization: Sexuality, dating, recreational sports, dancing, music.
Training: Core knowledge in history, economics, science, literature, and math. Students learn by reading online texts, watching online multimedia, and discussing topics in small groups. Students must pass core competency tests.
Work: Students are responsible for maintaining their school. Each student works one hour each day. The student is paid for the work. The pay depends on the quality of the student’s work. Students learn to supervise other students.

Ages 14-17:
Single adult advisor. Student has some say as to whom their advisor will be.
Socialization: One or two group activities per week under adult supervision. Most activities are self selected and organized by students.
Training: Specialized based on student interests and aptitudes. A student would prove competency through online testing.
Work: Students would run the school under the supervision of the school managers. Apprenticeships with specialists in cooperating businesses. Student would learn business procedures and help workers accomplish real tasks.

Ages 18-21:
The structured learning period is over. Education is self-directed. As long as the person is successfully passing accreditation tests, the government provides supplemental income.
Companies would list the accreditation tests that they accept for various job positions. In order to qualify for government support at least half of a student’s accreditation fields must be popular with potential employers.

Randall Parker said at October 7, 2003 12:40 PM:

Vinod, I quite agree with your point about "soft America" versus "hard America". Kids would become realistic sooner in their lives if they didn't spend so much time in an only-too-unrealistic environment.

Fly, As for standardized testing: I agree as well. I'd especially like to see a series of standardized tests for the more objective fields such as math, chemistry, and physics. Let kids take courses in those subjects at much younger dates and downplay the importance of grades on the regular course tests and assignments. There should be standardized tests of, for instance, basic classical mechanics in physics and another in basic electromagnetics. Rather than having to sit thru a full year of sequential basic physics you should be able to go to lectures and listen/watch internet lectures on what you think you need to learn to pass various standardized tests. Then use on-line tests to measure your deficiencies, go to more lectures, get on-line or in-person tutoring, and then take another stab at the on-line tests. Once you think you've mastered some area you can then go and take a proctored test in person at a test center so that your identity can be assured.

So in addition to speeding up education we also need to modularize and standardize core hard science and math topics. I don't see how this can be done in humanities. But the hard sciences, math, and engineering are more important to accelerate people thru anyhow.

I also like the idea of paying older kids to tutor younger kids. Gives them the work ethic and I think at least the smarter ones would be capable of doing this. It would cost less than paying an adult to do it and would cause the older kids to develop a better grasp of the material.

Bob Badour said at October 7, 2003 4:46 PM:

develop a better grasp of the material

It would develop verbal communication and persuasion skills as well.

Rob said at October 8, 2003 1:32 PM:

I don't know if you could speed up everybody, but I think you could definitely speed up smart kids. Actually, if you let people graduate high school once they completed a certain amount of work, instead of after 12 years, maybe kids would WANT to learn so they could hurry up and get it over with.

RR said at October 11, 2003 5:17 AM:


Accelerating the education of the very best students would undoubtedly benefit the country, but I wonder about the wage effect your proposal would have on those workers in non-elite jobs. Sure, by minimizing the time each potential worker spends in school you minimize the tax burden on citizens, but wouldn't the addition of millions of eligible teenage workers tighten an already tight job market? I didn't even mention job out-sourcing or the effect of unchecked immigration.

Randall Parker said at October 11, 2003 10:51 AM:

RR, The kids who have accelerated education would spend less time working at low skilled jobs. So the effect there would be to tend to raise salaries of those jobs by reducing the labor supply for them.

Non-elite jobs: the smart kids are headed toward the elite job market.

The proposal I'm making would be implemented very gradually. This is not a top-down "everyone now do this" sort of idea. I don't expect it to cause a large change and I expect the labor market will adjust to it. In the short run the proposal would create summer jobs for those who teach scientific and technical subjects in the summer. But that would be followed by a reduction in the number of teaching positions during the regular school year. Also, I would expect a net decrease in the amount of time spent in classes and in the amount of time spent teaching as kids moved thru course work more rapidly. The rate of instruction of material is slower in high school than in college.

RR said at October 12, 2003 8:37 AM:


I don't quite follow your line of reasoning. We agree that the best students would be helped by accelerating their educations, but these students wouldn't be competing for low skill jobs anyway. What about those students with more pedestrian IQs? I envision 13 year olds with IQs of 100 competing with 40 year olds with similar IQs. I think the net effect would be to lower the average low-skill wage.

Your idea is very attractive, but even if implemented gradually (and assuming an immigration moratorium were also in place) it seems that there would be a surplus of people applying for low wage jobs. You say that everyone would not be required to do this, but why wouldn't everyone be required to do it? It's cheaper for taxpayers. I think Joe AverageTaxpayer would insist that everyone do this.

Randall Parker said at October 12, 2003 12:11 PM:

RR, I would expect kids with lower IQs to stay in school just as long as they do now. The push is on to try to raise the proficiency of those who are graduating from school with low scores on standardized tests. My guess is that people with 80 or 90 IQs will be encouraged to stay in school as long as possible in order to try to teach them more basics.

Your example of 100 IQ: over half the population of the US has an IQ of less than 100. A 100 IQ person is not the kind of person competing in low skilled labor market.

Our problem is that our ratio of workers to dependents is going to fall for decades to come and we are going to need people to work longer.

Vico said at August 22, 2007 11:26 PM:

This is obviously a well-thought of and planned write-up.

Just one concern.

This plan would only work if the "supply" for jobs was too low. Currently, there are too many foreigners seeking jobs in the USA.

If these kids were to be released to the job market earlier, than the supply for labor would be again increased. The demand would be unaffected. Basic economic theory suggests that this will cause the equilibrium price for labor to go down. Or perhaps the unemployment rate might increase.

If this happens, workers will be payed less by their employers. This means that their taxes would go down. So much for increased taxes.

So my suggestion is, go with the status quo regarding time spent in education. This way, not only will the concern i mentioned above not be a problem, kids will get a chance to mentally mature before they step into the real world. Instead of shorter schooling, how about more integrated on the job trainings as early as high school?

Besides, earlier entry to the work force seems like earlier retiring age to me. (And in that case the government would be spending money for THEM too.)

Personally, the focus should not be making kids grow up too fast for their own good. Rather, the focus should be on decreasing educational costs. This could mean grants to private schools, or just plain increasing efficiency through incorporating technology and i dont know what else, im not a specialized person in education, but it sounds better to me.

Well, thats just my two cents worth. Props to your great ideas though, it really got me thinking. Keep it up!

BBarker said at March 4, 2009 8:14 PM:

Your thoughts are interesting, but I find them a little simplistic. "Bright students" may develop faster academically, but they still have
the same emotional needs as their peers.
It seems like our children are over stressed by the constant push to get them to learn earlier and quicker.

Randall Parker said at November 5, 2010 8:45 PM:


I was bored out of my skull in high school and found it depressing. The ability to earn college credit online during the summer and weekends and holidays while in high school would have lifted my spirits dramatically.

California Architect said at December 21, 2011 5:44 AM:

A couple of the comments above objected to the idea of accelerating entry into the workforce because it would increase competition in an already tight job market. There are a couple of problems with this line of thinking. First of all, the job market will not always be as tight as it is now since there are economic cycles in which demand for labor rises and falls. There will be a time in the future in which this country will be sorely in need of skilled workers. It's better to have our own labor force ready to work instead of increasing visas for immigration to fill jobs.

Secondly, it should not be one of the goals of the educational system to try and keep qualified people out of the job market to the advantage of older workers. That would be a malicious goal of education. Students who learn quicker should be allowed to accelerate regardless of whoever may not like it. Education should be for the benefit of each student, not for the benefit of some other group (labor unions) that happens to be adept at lobbying “educrats”.

Finally, currently one of the goals of education seems to be to keep teachers and professors fully employed, regardless of students' needs. Allowing students to test out of courses won't sit well with some teachers and professors who will see less "demand" for their otherwise required courses. Often these courses appear in the general education requirements section of a college's course catalog. Some of these required courses are put there because of political motivation to push some agenda and to keep some professors fully employed. Ethnic studies requirements at the University of California system is such an example. These courses offer students nearly no economically viable job skills, and increase costs and the time to graduate. Eliminating these requirements or allowing more students to test out of them would be a good start.

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