Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Cost of Quality? Priceless.

I get excited when I talk about Higher Achievement. I often need to control myself and organize my thoughts as there are lots of ways I can talk about the work we do. I can talk about our rigorous curriculum, our culture of high expectations and hard work, our data-driven approach, our outcomes-based model, the professional development support we provide to staff, or the long term impact we see among Higher Achievement alumni.

But one question always stumps me: why do we cost so much?

So much in comparison to what? We spend between $4500 and $4800 a year per scholar to provide them with a full range of academic supports during the school year and in the summer. We take them on college trips, high school trips, provide them with learning mentors, and expand the opportunities for them to be placed in high schools that get them on track to college. We give them the opportunity to maximize their potential. Is that worth $4800? Broken down on a monthly basis, we provide these supports for $400 a month -- or $100 a week, or down to $7.80 an hour.

It seems to me a narrow measuring stick for effectiveness and efficiency when cost is considered by itself. In that same vein, many often look at overhead and general administrative rates to measure “efficiency” as if non-profit organizations could fully function with minimum back end support.

I often respond to the cost question with a short response: $4800; which is then followed by a long soliloquy on costs versus investments. We often look at dollars used for children’s issues as costs -- not investments in the kind of society we want to build in the future. As a society, we try to minimize spending now on things that we know children need to become productive, responsible and contributing adults: nutritious food, good shelters, solid education, safe communities, physical education, art appreciation, and the list goes on and on.

During a four-year stay at Higher Achievement, we would have invested almost $20,000 in a young person who will eventually go to college, earn a degree, get a job, raise a family and change the world. To me, it’s a very cheap price to pay for a society I want to live and grow old in.

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