Bas Jacobs, Sweder J. G. van Wijnbergen
Capital-Market Failure, Adverse Selection, and Equity Financing of Higher Education
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We apply theories of capital-market failure to analyze optimal financing of risky higher education. In the market solution, students can only finance their education through debt. There is underinvestment in human capital because some students with socially profitable investments in human capital will not invest in education, due to adverse-selection problems in debt markets and because insurance markets for human-capital-related risk are absent. Legal limitations on the use of human capital in financial contracts cause this underinvestment; without them, private markets would optimally finance these risky investments through equity rather than debt and supply income insurance. The government, however, can circumvent this problem and implement equity and insurance contracts through the tax system by using a graduate tax. This paper shows that public equity financing of education coupled to provision of some income insurance is the optimal way to finance education when private markets fail due to adverse selection. We show that education subsidies to restore market inefficiencies are suboptimal.