High-quality child care returns much more than it costs: report

November 21, 2002

CHAPEL HILL -- For every dollar spent on high-quality early education programs, taxpayers can expect four dollars in benefits, according to a new analysis of data from a long-running research project at the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"These programs not only lead to greater academic success, they boost lifetime earnings for participants and their mothers," said Dr. Steven Barnett, co-author of the report and director of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

Barnett and Dr. Leonard Massey did a benefit-cost analysis of the Abecedarian Early Childhood Intervention Project, which began in the 1970s at FPG. They found: The team concluded that the average annual cost of the Abecedarian intervention would be about $13,000 per child in 2002 dollars, Barnett said. That's about twice the cost of the average Head Start program.

"Even at that, the benefits outweigh the costs by a factor of four dollars for every dollar spent," he said.

Researchers also concluded that the pay-off would probably be much greater in other communities, especially high-crime and low-income neighborhoods, because the project was conducted in Chapel Hill, a middle-class community more supportive than most of early education.

"Our analysis may actually underestimate the benefits of high-quality programs for disadvantaged communities," Barnett said. "For example, other studies such as the Perry Preschool Project, have estimated a return of up to seven dollars for every taxpayer dollar spent on early education, with most of the return from decreased crime costs."

Dr. Don Bailey, FPG director, said he was pleased that an independent, outside objective analysis of the Abecedarian Project "reinforces the significance and validity of this landmark study."

Results of the analysis are important for policy makers to consider when deciding on early childhood education issues, Barnett said.

"When investing taxpayer dollars, it's important to know what programs pay the greatest dividends," he said.

Barnett presented the report Wednesday (Nov. 20) during the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in New York City.

Dr. Craig Ramey of UNC began the Abecedarian Project with 57 infants from low-income families who were randomly assigned to a high-quality child-care program at FPG. Another 54 infants were in a control group that did not receive the same intervention, although some did attend other child-care centers. The project included small class sizes, well-trained and well-compensated teachers and a strong curriculum.

Dr. Frances Campbell at FPG has followed the participants, who are now young adults, and found that they were more likely to perform well on intelligence tests, pursue higher education and delay parenting than those who did not take part in the program. Subjects will soon be involved in the Age 30 Follow-Up Study that Campbell is leading.
For more information about the Abecedarian project and data from the Abecedarian Project Age 21 Follow-Up, visit www.fpg.unc.edu/~abc/index.htm.

The complete benefit-cost analysis is at http://nieer.org/resources/research/AbecedarianStudy.pdf.

Note: Campbell can be reached at 919-966-4529. For more information about the benefit-cost analysis, call Carol Shipp (communications director at NIEER) at 732-932-4350, Ext. 225 or Steve Barnett at 732-932-4350, Ext. 228.

FPG Contact: Loyd Little, 919-966-0867.
News Services Contact: David Williamson, 919-962-8596

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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