Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon recently stated that “education is the best economic development tool available.” He is correct: an educated work force is an important ingredient to economic growth. Sadly, it also helps explain why Missouri’s record of economic growth gets a failing grade.
In a recent Saint Louis Beacon editorial, I noted that budget decisions have reduced funding for higher education. Spending on higher education has declined in real terms since 1990. This has had several effects, including forcing Missouri universities and colleges to raise tuition. It also has affected the educational accomplishment of the average Missourian.
How does Missouri stack up when compared to other states in educational achievement by its citizens? In 2008, Missouri ranked 33rd out of the 50 states using the statistic “percent of adults having a bachelor’s degree or more.” Don’t like “number of degrees” as a measure of what you have learned? Using standardized test scores (the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) as a measure of educational attainment, Stanford University professor Eric Hanushek recently reported that since 1992, the gain in NAEP test scores for Missouri relative to other states is unimpressive. On this score, Missouri ranks 27th out of 41 states for which data are available.
Missouri’s lackluster educational record is one of several factors that has negatively affected our economic standard of living. In a 2012 Show-Me Institute study, SMI economists Joseph Haslag and Michael Podgursky reported that Missouri’s economy expanded at a slower pace than any of its neighbors since 1997. Compared to all 50 states, Missouri ranked 48th in terms of economic growth. Even in a world of social promotion, this is not a passing record of achievement.
Nixon has called for additional funds for higher education in the fiscal year 2015 budget. Whether these funds survive the political battlefield and find their way to colleges and universities is a dubious proposition. Nor do I mean to suggest that simply throwing more dollars at education is the answer to improving the situation. One thing is certain, however: Unless Missouri’s educational report card improves in the coming years, do not expect to experience an economic boom any time soon.