Education, according to Paul Courant, the head of the University’s library system, does more than just enrich the educated.

Dave Mekelburg
In a speech yesterday, University Librarian Paul Courant said education has a social good beyond just enriching the educated. (BENJI DELL/Daily)

It makes everyone else better off, too.

That’s why the University of Michigan subsidizes the tuition of in-state students – so they can better contribute to the state’s economy, said Courant, an economist and former University provost.

In a talk yesterday afternoon in Weill Hall, Courant compared an educated population to a library collection. The more educated people there are (or the more books there are), the more everyone else benefits.

People with a college education, he said, will buy tickets to sports games and museum exhibits. That helps funnel money into the region’s economy.

That’s why one person’s college education fits the economic definition of a public good, he said. A public good is something that can one person can benefit from without reducing the good’s value for everyone else.

“Higher education can be a spectacularly successful investment,” Courant said.

Higher education is also a public good, he said, and it should be more accessible.

“We’re really good at taking kids from high income families and teaching them how to make an even higher income,” Courant said.

Courant pointed to state subsidies for the tuition of in-state students as evidence that people realize the importance of educated citizens.

“If it didn’t raise wages other than those of the students, why would we care about subsidizing the tuition?” Courant said.

He compared charging a fee for a public good with raising the fee for university education.

“A larger and larger fraction of the cost is becoming fee for service by way of tuition,” Courant said.

Tuition rates in Michigan in recent years have climbed as state funding for public universities has decreased.

University Regent Julia Darlow (D-Ann Arbor) said she found Courant’s analysis of higher education tuition “tremendously relevant.”

“I plan on talking to him about some of the ideas he raised and how they can be applied to our budget today,” Darlow said.

Courant’s ideas are similar to some of the rhetoric surrounding the debate over higher education in Michigan. Many supporters of increased higher education funding say more college graduates will improve the state’s economy.

Former University President Harold Shapiro said he was glad he heard Courant speak.

“When I left Michigan, I said that part of my heart will always remain here,” Shapiro said. “Paul has done a lot for the University and it is an honor to be associated with him.”

When Courant took a professorship at the Ford School of Public Policy, he attached Shapiro’s name to the post.

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