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Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust was the subject of a recent Freakonomics podcast interview by host Stephen Dubner. While the whole thing is well worth listening to—Faust is enlightening on everything from the Civil War to her perspective on being Harvard's first female president to the college's endowment fund—there was one major takeaway for anyone with even a passing interest in the question of whether higher education is worth the investment.
In response to a wide-ranging question about the efficacy and return on investment of higher education in general—and Harvard in particular—Faust made a strong case not just for investing in your own future, but for the nation to do so. Here's her response to the question in full:
"What we've seen in the past decade or two is that knowledge is increasingly the currency of the world in which we operate, and the differential between what a high school graduate can make over a lifetime and what a college graduate makes over a lifetime has increased. We also saw during the recession that unemployment was much lower among college graduates than it was for those who did not have college degrees. So this is a time when learning and knowledge is increasingly—not decreasingly—important. This is something that we need to recognize as a society and Harvard believes very strongly in this and believes in giving opportunity to students from the widest possible range of backgrounds and financial circumstances.
But we need to think about this holistically as a system of higher education across the United States and the importance of the publics [i.e. public universities] who have been significantly defunded. About the 1990s, one in four dollars of support for the publics came from families and the rest came from the state. This has reversed, and so when you see the cost of education in the publics has not changed, but the price has changed because they've been defunded by their state governments. This is a disinvestment that our nation is making in the most important investment it can make in its future. And so we need to make sure that places like Harvard can thrive, but we also need to make sure that the publics can thrive, and the system of community colleges as well, for students who are seeking either a leg up into a four year college education or perhaps a terminal two-year degree that will give them the skills to operate within the modern technologically advanced workforce."
Listen to the full podcast here.
What's your take on Faust's conception of higher education? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter.
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