Archive for March 18th, 2015

March 18, 2015

Education may be free but the credential is not

by Grace

Guillaume Dumas attended classes, made friends, and networked on some of America’s most prestigious campuses—for free….

The schools included Yale, Brown, UC Berkeley, and Stanford.  But he did not obtain what is arguably the most valuable part of an elite college education.

… Most people go to college primarily to get a piece of paper, and learning is something that happens incidentally….

Economist Bryan Caplan, who has extensively studied the college wage premium, elaborates on the signaling benefit of a degree, derived largely from actually receiving a diploma.

… Most of the financial reward of education comes from finishing degrees. Since diplomas used to be written on sheepskin, this finding is known as the “sheepskin effect.”

Researchers usually interpret sheepskin effects as signaling. If finishing your last year of college sharply boosts your income, the reason probably isn’t that colleges withhold the financially lucrative material until your senior year.

College professors don’t usually need to police their classrooms to prevent people like Dumas from sitting in on classes because lectures and assignments are not the most valuable components of what they are offering.  Those components are mostly steps on the road to the real reward — a college degree.

Students who never enrolled, or perhaps more significantly never paid for their courses, are not a concern for colleges.

Ollivier Dyens, deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill, explained why his university wasn’t worried about this sort of activity. “Not a lot of people will go through all of this without having some sort of credentials attached to it,” he says….


Joe Pinskermar, “The Man Who Snuck Into the Ivy League Without Paying a Thing”, The Atlantic, March 5, 2015.

Bryan Caplan, “The Present Value of a Sheepskin”, EconLog, January 20, 2012.

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