W. Steven

Profile: W. Steven Barnett

Board of Governors Professor of Education (Economics and Policy); Senior Co-Director, National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER); Education Economics and Policy

W. Steven Barnett, Ph.D. is the Senior Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and Board of Governors Professor of Education in Economics and Policy. His work focuses on public policy for young children and their families, especially early education, in the United States and globally. More broadly he is interested in how economics can help us understand the determinants of human develop at both the individual and societal levels. The son of a Navy officer, Barnett’s interests were influenced by living in various parts of the world and attending highly varied school systems across the United States.

Dr. Barnett holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Kenyon College and later went on to receive a Master’s and a Doctorate degree in the same field from the University of Michigan. Focusing on the economics of cognitive development, Barnett became engaged in the Perry Preschool Study which had in the early 1960’s launched an experiment in which low-income preschoolers in Ypsilanti, Michigan were randomly assigned to a very high-quality preschool program. His work on the study began with the age 19 follow-up and a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of impacts on life outcomes including educational attainment, employment, and involvement in delinquency and crime. He found that the economic return of this investment in early education was nearly an order of magnitude larger than the cost. This result may well be one of the most widely cited findings in educational research in both the academic and policy worlds (quoted in multiple Presidents’ State of the Union Addresses). As a senior co-director of NIEER, Barnett works with a multidisciplinary team to conduct and disseminate research informing early childhood education policy and practice from birth to age 8 with particular attention to the needs of the most economically disadvantaged children and families. NIEER partners extensively with school districts and state government agencies to support stronger programs and policies here in New Jersey.


Ph.D. in Economics, University of Michigan, (1982)

M.A. in Economics, University of Michigan, (1978)

B.A. in Economics, Kenyon College, (1976)

Expertise & Research Interest

Economics of human development

Early childhood and preschool education

Educational funding and policy

Recent & Selected Publications

Ramon, I., Chattopadhyay, S.K, Barnett, W.S., Hahn, R.A. & the Community Preventive Services Task Force (2017). Early childhood education to promote health equity: A Community Guide economic review. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice.

Kalicki, B., Woo, N., & Barnett, W. S. (2017). Longitudinal studies in ECEC: challenges of translating research into policy action. International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy.

Barnett, W. S., Friedman-Krauss, A. H., Weisenfeld, G. G., Horowitz, M., Kasmin, R., & Squires, J. H. (2017). The State of Preschool 2016: State Preschool Yearbook. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

Barnett, W., Jung, K., Friedman-Krauss, A., Frede, E., Nores, M., Hustedt, J., … Daniel-Echols, M. (2018). State Prekindergarten Effects on Early Learning at Kindergarten Entry: An Analysis of Eight State Programs. AERA Open, 4(2), r–Jun. 

Barnett, W. S. & Frede, E.C. (2017). Long-term effects of a system of high-quality universal preschool education in the United States. In H.-P. Blossfeld, N. Kulic, J. Skopek, & M. Triventi (Eds.), Childcare, early education and social inequality: An international perspective. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Honors & Awards

Member National Academy of Education

Fellow, American Educational Research Association

Ranked among Top 120 Public Influence Edu-Scholars, Education Week

Distinguished Leader in Education, Rutgers University Graduate School of Education

Faculty Research Award, Rutgers GSE Alumni Association

Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Research, Rutgers University

Scholarship for Academic Excellence, Kenyon College

Certificate of Appreciation for Service, National Association of Business Economists

Professional Affiliations

American Economic Association

National Association of Business Economists

American Educational Research Association

Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Early Childhood

National Association for the Education of Young Children 

National Academy of Education

Phi Beta Kappa

Omicron Delta Epsilon