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How much is your time in class worth?

I’ve had this discussion too often1:

Mr K: Part of the purpose of school is to get you ready for a job.

Student: But I don’t get paid for going to school.

Now, supposedly we all know that going to school is important, and good for you, and will lead to success later in life.

If you really believe this, you should be able to put a dollar value on how much the time in class is worth, and how they’re going to see the payoff.

So, I thought I’d give it a shot. I grabbed some of the US Census data on income vs. education, and made a couple of gross assumptions: Students with the highest grades were the most likely to get an advanced degree, C students were likely to graduate high school, but probably not college, and D or F students were likely to fail out before graduation. Very gross assumptions, but it gave me enough to work with.

I made up a worksheet, but I’m unhappy with it. It looks more like a tax form than anything else.

But, I’m pretty sure that the thinking it’s based on isn’t too bad: If you get Fs, or drop out, your time in class is worth nothing. Anything better than that is worth the difference in lifetime income, divided by how much time you actually spend in school. The numbers could stand some adjustment for inflation, but I also don’t differentiate on the difference in importance between Math or PE grades. This is just a rough back of the envelope calculation.

Oh, I’ll cheat and give out the (ballpark) answers this time, since I think the worksheet sucks so bad. I got $25/period for a 2.0, $90/period for a 3.0, and $250/period for a 4.02

1 There’s room for a whole big fight of a debate about whether this sort of extrinsic motivation has any place among well designed lessons. I’d probably come down against myself in that debate, mostly because I know I still have the occasional completely lame lesson. I fall back on the not so great techniques. At least I don’t give out candy.

2 Using the inflation adjusted synthetic earnings estimates from that paper gives slightly different numbers, but still in the same ballpark: $15, $85, and $240/period, depending on the grade.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Mrs. H | January 19, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    I love the lesson. I think this would help students see the big picture and how their actions now correlate to their success in the future. I for one, would like to “borrow” this if you don’t mind!

  2. Mr. K | January 19, 2009 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Go right ahead. If I find a way to make this at all interesting to a student, rather than to the adults who are trying to convince them of something, I’ll post an update.

  3. Greg | January 20, 2009 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Tie it in with some visuals. The kind of house or car someone in each of the brackets is likely to afford.

    Also, remind them that learning in and of istelf is a virtue that can be rewarding.

  4. Kate | January 27, 2009 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I like the worksheet! The only think I’d change is to take out the specific instructions (what to multiply, what to subtract) and expect them to figure that out.

  5. Travis Johnson | May 12, 2009 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    This is brilliant… I think this gets downplayed entirely too much. Or it’s too easy to get focused on other things in highschool.

    Nicely done.