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When is the Efficient Subsidy to Higher Education the Equitable Subsidy ?

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  • William R. Johnson

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Abstract

Despite some empirical evidence to the contrary, government subsidy to higher education is usually presumed to be inequitable because college-educated workers earn more than less educated workers. Using a simple model of edu- cational choice with endogenous wages and two worker types, I obtain strong results concerning this conßict between efficiency and equity ? namely that eq- uity and efficiency do not conßict unless there are borrowing constraints. Pre- existing distorting taxes or real externalities imply that the efficient subsidy is positive and that the efficient subsidy is also the subsidy which maximizes the net income of the unskilled. However, when tuition subsidies are used to overcome borrowing constraints, the efficient subsidy exceeds the subsidy which maximizes the net income of the unskilled. If borrowing constraints could be overcome with another policy, like student loans, efficiency and equity would not be in conßict. In a more complex model with a range of worker abilities there is no equity-efficiency trade-off only when the efficient subsidy is zero ? that is, in the absence of real externalities, pre-existing taxes or borrowing constraints. The presence of any one of these three complications makes the efficient subsidy positive, while the subsidy that maximizes the net income of the unskilled is lower. In those cases, efficiency conßicts with equity.

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File URL: http://www.virginia.edu/economics/RePEc/vir/virpap/papers/virpap366.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Virginia, Department of Economics in its series Virginia Economics Online Papers with number 366.

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Length: 18 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:vir:virpap:366

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Web page: http://www.virginia.edu/economics/home.html

Related research

Keywords: higher education; subsidy;

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  1. Johnson, George E, 1984. "Subsidies for Higher Education," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 2(3), pages 303-18, July.
  2. Philip A. Trostel, 1996. "Should Education Be Subsidized?," Public Finance Review, , , vol. 24(1), pages 3-24, January.
  3. Enrico Moretti, 2002. "Estimating the Social Return to Higher Education: Evidence From Longitudinal and Repeated Cross-Sectional Data," NBER Working Papers 9108, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Daron Acemoglu & Joshua Angrist, 1999. "How Large are the Social Returns to Education? Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Laws," NBER Working Papers 7444, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Michael P. Keane & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1995. "The career decisions of young men," Working Papers, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis 559, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  6. James J. Heckman & Lance Lochner & Christopher Taber, 1999. "General Equilibrium Cost Benefit Analysis of Education and Tax Policies," NBER Working Papers 6881, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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