Panel Paper: The Lifecycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program

Friday, November 3, 2017
Stetson BC (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Duncan Ermini Leaf1, Jorge Luis Garcia2, James Heckman2, Maria Jose Prados1 and Dana Goldman1, (1)University of Southern California, (2)University of Chicago

In this study, we estimated the large array of life-cycle benefits from the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC) and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education (CARE)—early childhood programs targeted to disadvantaged children. Both were launched in North Carolina in the 1970s and have long-term follow-ups through the participants’ mid 30’s. The programs started early (8 weeks of life) and engaged participants to age 5, and provided comprehensive developmental resources including nutrition, parental support, access to healthcare and early learning.

Using the Future Americans Model in a cost benefit analysis, we found these programs had the potential to deliver a 13.7% per child, per year return on investment through better outcomes in health, education, and employment. The economic return of the two programs was substantially higher than had been previously found for preschool programs serving 3- to 4-year-olds, which have previously estimated only a 7-10% return on investment. Although results varied by gender, children enrolled in the program saw marked improvements in outcomes, including permanent gains in IQ, higher rates of graduation, higher income levels, lower drug use and participation in crime, and lower blood pressure and hypertension.

While the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are relatively high, these investments pay off in the short- and long-run. By increasing access to high-quality programming early on, local and state leaders can more effectively combat the negative effects of child poverty, and improve the health and well-being of their communities at large.