What’s the value of higher education? Book co-authored, edited by MSU scholar explains

July 26, 2023

The value of higher education in the United States is commonly assessed in terms of cost and economic return on an individual, but there is so much more to truly determine its value. Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education (HALE) program Professor Brendan Cantwell and 16 scholars from nine countries co-authored and edited: “Assessing the Contributions of Higher Education: Knowledge for a Disordered World” which examines higher education’s cultural and societal contributions internationally ranging from effects on public policy to the climate crisis.

“We agree that the cost-benefit analysis is a very important part of the conversation and definitely one that matters and is not going away,” said Cantwell. “We also know that there is a rich set of research about what higher education does and does not do.”

Professor Brendan Cantwell.
Professor Brendan Cantwell.

The idea for the book was conceived by scholars at an education policy conference in Moscow in fall of 2019. For almost four years, scholars contributed, and in some cases partnered, on chapters based on their area of expertise within education policy. The book’s multidisciplinary approach provides a general framework for education policymakers and individuals to assess higher education beyond cost and benefit.

“The thing that makes this book different and important in its own right is the diversity of perspectives that we integrate in coming up with the framework. It’s the first time I know of, that a group of scholars around the country with different ideological perspectives have come together on this topic,” said Cantwell, who explained the book concludes higher education’s contributions should be viewed in both intrinsic and extrinsic terms.

“Assessing the Contributions of Higher Education” was published in February 2023.

Cantwell and scholars examine and describe the intrinsic effects of higher education in terms of its educative purposes and how it changes an individual psychologically and socially. These changes increase their human capital and their ability to earn. The extrinsic value of higher education is described in the book as how education contributes overall to society, the economy and environment.

Scholars agreed that inequality in higher education remains. “There’s discussion about inequality and the way that higher education may work better for people from more privileged backgrounds than those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.

Published by Edward Elgar Publishing, the book is free to download.