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College Degree Wage Premiums: Signaling vs. Human Capital Accumulation

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The general consensus in the sub-field of education economics is that college graduates command a wage premium because of two separate effects: human capital accumulation (a.k.a. learning) and signaling (a.k.a. getting a piece of paper for being a good little monkey and jumping through the hoops). Every study I have read on the subject comes to a different conclusion about how much of the premium comes from human capital, and how much comes from signaling. The general consensus, from what I remember from the survey course I took in 2008, is that the majority of the effects come from signaling.

This recent study done at Georgetown, that specifically looks at wages and how they are effected by college degrees and other factors such as demographic identity and occupational choice, doesn’t really tell us anything that is new. It does have some surprising figures about proportions of relatively uneducated people who hold “highly respectable” occupations such as executives and legislators, but all in all it isn’t paradigm shifting or even a surprise to anyone who is already familiar with the subject.

This article makes the claim that signaling makes up most of the wage premium. The article is a commentary on the aforementioned study, and more anecdotal than empirical in its analysis, but it does make interesting implications about the supposed bubble in higher education.

It is hard to measure a bubble in higher ed. Most of the models Read more…

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Categories: Economics, Education

How To Get A Job After College

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

First of all, you have to pick an employable major. The sad truth is that essentially none of what I am going to write will have any practical application if you do not major in a hard science or business, and it will probably apply more to business majors or would-be corporate scientists and engineers than the future Noble Prize winners of the world (who are already at MIT anyway, so I am not sure why they are consulting information about how to find a job).

Read more…

Categories: Business, Education

Joseph Epstein on the American Novel

August 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Joseph Epstein reviewing “The Cambridge History of the American Novel” in the Wall Street Journal:

Only 40 or 50 years ago, English departments attracted men and women who wrote books of general intellectual interest and had names known outside the academy—Perry Miller, Aileen Ward, Walter Jackson Bate, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Joseph Wood Krutch, Lionel Trilling, one could name a dozen or so others—but no longer.

I’m not familiar with any of those names, which of course speaks more of me than Epstein. Perhaps I am a victim of the academic evisceration and pedagogical over-extension that Epstein describes.

With the gates once carefully guarded by the centurions of high culture now flung open, the barbarians flooded in, and it is they who are running the joint today. The most lauded novelists in “The Cambridge History of the American Novel” tend to be those, in the words of another of its contributors, who are “staging a critique of ‘America’ and its imperial project.” Thus such secondary writers as Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and E.L. Doctorow are in these pages vaunted well beyond their literary worth.

Bring on the barbarians, I say. Ginsberg and Vonnegut were among the authors that spoke to me in high school and made me interested in books. To somehow deride them because of their politics is to miss the point: art is a reflection of the people and times that create it. I am sure that My Antonia and The Great Gatsby spoke to Epstein because they addressed the world of his time. The lessons in its pages had already been lived, digested, absorbed, and processed by the society that I was born into, a society whose young people became interested in a different set of questions and ideas than the ones puzzled over by Epstein and my grandparents. The commodification of the American Dream is merely hinted at in Gatsby, but it is at the forefront of everything that has been written since Ginsberg, et. al.

Epstein’s assessment of the modern English department is correct, but the correlation between the practices he maligns and the declining enrollment rates in American English departments lends no proof to any chain of causation, one way or the other. Book lovers still find their way into English departments, and they also find there way into Econ departments as necessitated by the realities of our changing society. The collected popular memes of postmodernism do not lend themselves very well to the type of canonical English department that Epstein reminisces over, the type where art’s meaning is conceived only within the mind of the artist and the audience’s role is to find this “correct” meaning rather than bring their own experiences into the process.

“The Cambridge History of the American Novel” could only have come into the world after the death of the once-crucial distinction between high and low culture, a distinction that, until 40 or so years ago, dominated the criticism of literature and all the other arts. Under the rule of this distinction, critics felt it their job to close the gates on inferior artistic products. The distinction started to break down once the works of contemporary authors began to be taught in universities.

Sadly, this is the case. When did popular culture and consumer culture become synonymous? Epstein’s “40 years ago” sounds about right, but has consumerism so permeated our society that all cultural output is now corrupted by it, and made unworthy of comparison to what came before? Unable to be compared, perhaps, but certainly not unworthy.

I do sympathize with Epstein here, because culture has become commercialized and it is something that is discomforting. But the quality that Epstein pines for is a subjective value, and within the current paradigm of postmodern thought that dominates today’s youth culture, subjectivity is inauthentic, a type of “anti-quality”. Within the current commercial structure of the cultural world, today’s more enlightened and informed consumers have not felt intellectually hamstrung by their enjoyment and relation with commercial art. Instead they embrace the diversity of choice that commercial art engenders, while simultaneously being aware of the subversive influence that capitalism has upon it (an influence that permeates every facet of society, of which there is no escaping, and of which Epstein’s generation [and perhaps several after it] was not viscerally aware in the same way that today’s youth are).

On Unschooling

August 4, 2011 Leave a comment

“Unschooling” is the current trend of letting kids learn what they want, when they want. Supposedly, 10% of North American homeschoolers are using this educational model. Despite the anecdotal success stories and the startling fact that over 90% of unschooled kids go on to college (vs. 60% for publicly educated kids), unschooling has its share of detractors.

From this article:

It’s this lack of structure that has child psychiatrist and Harvard Medical professor Steven Schlozman concerned.

“Teaching is really hard. It’s really hard. I don’t think that just anybody can sit down and help a child achieve their educational goals and needs.

“There’s something wonderful about the idea of just letting kids be kids… focusing just on what they like, can do or are passionate about,” Schlozman continued. “The only thing is, they also live in the world and the world is going to need things from them.”

“…THE WORLD IS GOING TO NEED THINGS FROM THEM” Yes it will, Steven, yes it will. The world needs them to be obedient workers, just like yourself, otherwise the whole system might collapse. Take it from the Harvard professor, he goes to the establishment’s favorite school so he knows what the establishment wants.

Schlozman said students need trained adults to help them make that leap from what’s wired in our lower brain functions (walking, talking, eating) to higher brain functions (understanding why “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a good book) because pre-adolescent brains lack the capacity for abstraction.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” being a good book is self-evident. If we really need someone to explain to us why it is a good book, is it really that good? This is what is wrong with schooling; it doesn’t teach thinking for yourself, it teaches thinking like the rest of us. The smart kids will languish for 13 years and then graduate with a chip on their shoulder, the well-adjusted and privileged ones might even grow up to be the next Steven Scholzmans, suffering from convenient amnesia about their own life experiences once they have found a safe and comfortable nook within the facade of the machine’s walls. They can fiddle and laugh as it grinds forward, chewing through the soil and our souls, and the least damned among them may one day feel a tinge of regret over their complacency, regret quickly absolved with conciliatory reflections of “we didn’t know any better, the science and literature, the laws and authorities, all said that their way was the best, and who was I, so young and naive, to challenge them? Maybe the next generation of kids will get it right…”.

Or maybe they won’t because they never learned to think for themselves.

Here is a simple and easy to understand story about innovation in America

Prof. Tyler Cowen is my favorite blogger and favorite contemporary economist.

http://marginalrevolution.com/

I get many of my best ideas from him. More recently, he wrote and published an e-book called The Great Stagnation. It is an easy and informative read, cannot recommend it highly enough. Rather than try to summarize what Tyler’s ideas are, I will let the man himself do the talking.

Open Ed: The Answer to the Supposed Education Bubble

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The concept is simple: Community colleges that compete for federal money to serve students online will be obliged to make those materials—videos, text, assessments, curricula, diagnostic tools, and more—available to everyone in the world, free, under a Creative Commons license. The materials will become, to use the common term, open educational resources, or OER’s.”

Brilliant idea.

As the current system is designed, Higher Ed has two components: the knowledge and learning component, and a signalling component. Having more OER’s will increase the dissemination of knowledge and learning. People without the financial means to attend college will be able to get essentially free access (from the internet) to course materials that usually cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. As for signalling, if their is a large enough demand for some type of alternative certification, and the government doesn’t interfere, markets will provide testing and certification companies that essentially act as test proctors for comprehensive final examinations. This should provide a much cheaper alternative to getting a traditional college degree at a brick and mortar institution, and the certification would still provide a signal to employers and institutions that the student has achieved a certain level of proficiency within a given subject.

Categories: Economics, Education