Posts tagged ‘Bryan Caplan’

June 24, 2014

Only about 55% of the college wage premium comes from actually attending college

by Grace

The Cato Institute recently hosted a forum on the question, “Is College Worth It”?

Featuring Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, and Adjunct Scholar, Cato Institute; Beth Akers, Fellow, Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution; and Neal McCluskey, Associate Director, Center For Educational Freedom, Cato Institute; moderated by Chip Bishop, Director of Student Programs, Cato Institute.

Soaring tuition and student debt, the rise of high-tech alternatives, and a persistently sluggish economy have provoked a startling question: “Is college worth it?” It’s a question that raises many others: Must I go to college to learn skills I’ll need for my career? Is just getting a degree — any degree — the key to my future prosperity? Should higher education be about marketable skills, or is it about personal fulfillment and expanding human knowledge? These questions disconcert students, parents, and taxpayers alike….

According to Caplan, who took the podium first, approximately 55% of the college wage premium is attributable to the college degree.  The individual student is actually responsible for a significant percentage of the higher wages attributed to college graduates.

College grads typically arrive on campus with big labor market advantages. The typical college grad was unusually employable even before they started college.

The choice of major and the probability of graduation are two important factors that influence the college premium.

20140620.COCIsCollegeWorthItB1


The ‘concert effect’

Caplan also discusses the “concert effect” caused by the growing rate of college completion.  Similar to what happens at a concert when some members of the audience stand up, everyone else has to follow in order to enjoy the performance.  Can you see better when you stand up?  Not really, but you are forced to stand because everyone else is doing the same.  Does a college degree make you a better employee?  Not really, but we feel compelled to go to college because “everyone” else is doing it.

The forum podcast is available at the Cato site.  More topics are covered, including the sheepskin effect, why college professors never have to check IDs, and how college is a four-year party for most students.

 Related:  “Let’s be clear, going to college is not always ‘worth it’” (Cost of College)

Advertisements
April 12, 2013

Deconstructing the college premium – it depends on major and ability bias

by Grace

The college premium is derived from several elements.

The college premium of better pay and job prospects should be considered as a composite of several elements, not all directly resulting from actual college attendance.  The premium can be affected by the amount of genuine learning (influenced by major and institution), ability bias, signaling capacity, and other factors.  A hard-working computer science MIT graduate with a 130 IQ will likely enjoy a higher college premium  than a lackadaisical ethnic studies major with a 100 IQ who graduated from a directional state college.  Even if neither attended college, the MIT-wannabee would still probably out-earn the second individual.  [Edited to add that these comments refer to actual dollar amounts.  In terms of percentages, I can see how the slacker kid could have a higher college premium.]

Bryan Caplan has written extensively on this topic, including a recent post about how ‘stronger students typically choose harder – and more lucrative – majors’.

Economists usually talk about the college premium, but the college premium heavily depends on your major.  At the same time, though, stronger students typically choose harder – and more lucrative – majors.  Thus, the college premium is doubly infected by ability bias: People who would have made more money anyway are more likely to go to college, and college graduates who would have made more money anyway are more likely to select demanding majors.

Incorporating this information, Caplan calculated the premium for various majors.  Here are the top five, broken down by gender.

EARNINGS COMPARED TO H.S. GRADS

Major Males Females
Electrical engineering +63% +72%
Computer Science +61% +63%
Mechanical engineering +61% +72%
Finance +61% +55%
Economics +60% +59%


While Caplan admits these figures “lack the precision of Planck’s constant”, he considers them better than much of the information typically available to high school seniors.  Although as I look at this table, I’m not exactly sure how I would use the data in advising a particular student.  He also notes the relatively high rank of economics,  confirming his belief that “Economics is the highest-paid of all the easy majors.”

January 14, 2013

If you want a job at an elite firm . . .

by Grace

Last year the Chronicle of Higher Education gave us the lowdown on the specific circumstances where it can be extremely important to attend a particular name brand elite college.

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.

This comes from a study where Lauren Rivera of Northwestern University interviewed insiders at these elite firms.

Keep in mind this study focused on very specific career paths.  If a student is truly interested in a high-powered investment banking career or something similar, then paying for that gold-plated college degree might be worth it.  But how many 18-year-olds really know they want the lifestyle entailed in working for a white-shoe firm?  For those who are committed to this particular plan, Bryan Caplan offered a summary of the winnowing process that is conducted in the human resources offices of these employers.

1. Most applications practically go straight in the trash…

2. Evaluators have a lot of slack…

3. Super-elite credentials matter much more than your academic record…

4. Super-elite schools matter because they’re strong signals, not because they’re better at building human capital…

5. At least in this elite sample, I’m totally wrong to think that extracurriculars don’t matter. … But they have to be the right kind of extracurriculars.  You have to signal that you’re not signaling!…

6. Grades do matter somewhat, but mostly as a cut-off.  They’re a signal of work ethic more than IQ…

The credentialing game starts young.

Robert Teitelman pointed out that the process ensures these top firms will be staffed only with individuals who had the good fortune to be able to play the credentialing game that begins at a relatively young age, and essentially culminates at age 18 in the college admissions process.

On the face of it, there’s a quality to Rivera’s conclusions that seems pretty obvious. Anyone who’s been around Wall Street and consulting — or anyone with a teenager suffering through college admissions — knows the pressure that exists to get students into “elite” schools, however defined, in order to slot them onto a transmission belt to high-paying jobs, mostly at what Rivera calls the elite professional-services firms. This is the core of the myth that drives so much of upper-middle-class child rearing: the necessity of getting the tyro into Harvard or other elite universities, not for any educational attainments (so impractical), but for the effect it supposedly has on future prospects. Rivera is essentially putting flesh on those ghostly bones; she’s arguing that decisions made in college admissions — good, bad or indifferent — play a determinative role in where you go to work and how much money you make. She is not only offering empirical backing to the mania for, say, elite kindergartens and endless tutors, but she’s significantly raising the stakes: only the “top” matters. This is remarkable if only for the fact that college admissions, for all its importance, is about as scientific as necromancy.

The system is “terrible for organizations”.

It’s a bit frightening to realize that employment among these firms essentially relies on the signaling granted by admissions to these elite schools.  As Megan McCardle explained, this system is ‘a convenient shorthand for a group of people who are really busy” and is “terrible for organizations”.

The Ivy League is full of smart, interesting people.  But it is not full of all of the smart, interesting people in the country, or even a majority of them.  And given the resumes required to get there, it produces a group of people who are narrow in certain predictable ways….

This requirement to get the “right” degree from the “right” college to enable you to get the “right” job also exists in other fields.  Here’s an example from the world of music.

In my subfield of music, we have a version of the above phenomenon which determines who gets jobs. There is a short list of maybe half a dozen cronies who basically run the profession, and if you manage to get into their grad programs, you will get whatever top jobs are out there in a given hiring season. Jobs are filled with a phone call.

As someone else mentioned, the current market conditions don’t help things. If a committee has to weed people out of a stack of 200 applications, the pedigree is a quick (and dirty) method of winnowing the list without bothering to look at other aspects of the applications.

Choose your graduate program carefully and with full knowledge that you will be sealing your own fate before you even hit the campus.

A broader lesson for those in the college search and selection process:  Consider how important the particular school and/or department is in the trajectory of your desired career.  In some cases it might be a determining factor, but in most cases it is not so consequential.

%d bloggers like this: