Considering Valuation of Noncognitive Skills in Benefit-Cost Analysis of Programs for Children

Published in: Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, v. 6, no. 3, Sep. 2015, p. 471-507

Posted on RAND.org on January 04, 2016

by Damon E. Jones, Lynn A. Karoly, D. Max Crowley, Mark T. Greenberg

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The prospect of improving "noncognitive" skills through intervention increases the need to understand how to represent them in evaluations. Economic assessment of such efforts rarely incorporates these factors, especially when a benefit-cost approach is employed. Programs targeting such skills are more likely to be assessed through approaches that do not monetize noncognitive ability (e.g., using cost-effectiveness analysis). This could lead to ineffective policy formulations in situations where policy is swayed toward programs that can show monetized effects. Benefit-cost analyses (BCAs) that are employed for programs that target noncognitive competencies currently may underestimate the true economic impact if such skills are left out of the equation. The limitations in valuing these skills impede thorough economic assessment for important and effective programs that target noncognitive competencies. This is especially the case for programs for younger children where readily monetized outcomes are few. The targeted outcomes in programs for children are often noncognitive skills, skills that are perceived as vital to healthy human development and valued by parents, teachers, and educators. In this paper, we review the state of valuation of key noncognitive skills that are often targeted in social policy intervention directed toward children in youth. We examine the state of valuation of noncognitive skills through a summary of the frameworks in research for characterizing noncognitive ability and by considering the measurement approaches for noncognitive skills in terms of origin (interpersonal versus intrapersonal) and measurement type (observed versus assessed). We review examples of recent BCAs that have employed shadow prices for certain noncognitive skills. Finally, we consider what research is necessary to facilitate valuation in BCA in the future. Shadow price methodology should be carried out in a rigorous manner that recognizes uncertainty in cost projections. Improved methodologies in this area will increase the potential for more comprehensive BCA in evaluations of programs for children and youth.

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