Arnold Kling  

Supporting Goldin-Katz

A Simpler Solution... Delusions on Both Sides...

Jason Malloy writes,

merely earning a Bachelor's degree is a golden ticket. People with average and below average IQs are getting just as much of a financial return out of their 4-year degree as those above the 85th percentile. This suggests many more people of marginal ability should be seeking a Bachelor's degree, not less...people with 4-year degrees earn much more than people with 2-year degrees and trade jobs at every level of IQ.

He did his own research, using data from the General Social Survey. The results support Golding and Katz (we need more college education) and contradict Murray and Kling (we need less). One point I would make, that Malloy sort of alludes to, is that when someone of average IQ completes college, this could be due to (a) measurement error of the IQ indicator (they really have a higher IQ) or (b) unusual persistence or other characteristics.

It could still be the case that, at the margin sending more kids to college will not result in more kids graduating college. The additional kids you send may have neither the intelligence nor the other characteristics needed to graduate.

Still, a very interesting piece of work. Plenty of journal articles have been based on less.

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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Brandon Berg writes:

The results support Golding and Katz (we need more college education) and contradict Murray and Kling (we need less).

Not necessarily. It depends on whether the education actually increases their productivity or just makes them look better to employers and results in them getting lucrative jobs that would otherwise have gone to equally capable high school or junior college graduates.

The fact that college education produces private benefits does not prove that it produces any net social benefit at the margin, particularly when you take into account the up-front cost of four years of college plus three years' foregone wages.

bgc writes:

AK said: "a very interesting piece of work. Plenty of journal articles have been based on less."

Well said! And I agree - quant bloggers like Jason Malloy and the GNXP gang are regularly and without fuss generating insightful analyses that are often more original and interesting than 84 percent of what gets into the journals.

I've written about the phenomenon:

Dr. T writes:

I think we are in a lag phase. College attendance more than doubled in the past 30 years, and almost all colleges dumbed-down their curriculums so that most of those formerly 'not college material' students would graduate.

Most businesses have not consciously adapted to this change. However, there are now a number of professions that require (in some states) masters degrees instead of bachelors degrees. I predict that this trend will continue, and that (as usual) the best and the brightest will be hurt most. A smart person does not need six years of college to be a pharmacist, a physical therapist, or a school teacher. But, the extra years are the only way to show that you are better than the average college student (whose IQ now is only slightly above 100).

Another side-effect of the 'college is for everyone' movement is the increasing juvenilization of young adulthood. A big portion of today's youth can avoid adult responsibilities until age 24 or older. This is a far cry from 150 years ago, when most children assumed adult responsibilities by age 16. I'm not advocating child labor, but I believe that prolonging the teenage years into the mid-20s is not good.

frankcross writes:

Of course it is true that it is possible that sending more kids to college won't be good but that seems very anti-free market, as to the commenters.

Being a believer in Hayek and markets, I think that if businesses in a free market prefer graduates that probably has good reasons. And if kids choose to go to college, they probably know better than I do whether that's a good idea for them.

floccina writes:

I agree with what Brandon Berg said above, but if the goal is to narrow the gap between the marginal college grad and the top non-college grad, making more college grads might achieve that by lowering the value of the college degree, but what a waste of time and effort.

Start tongue in cheek - perhaps we could just give college degrees to everyone on graduation from high school - end tongue in cheek.

If the higher wage is due to the college grads having some knowledge or skill that the non college grad does not have then the question should be how to most efficiently give these valuable knowledge/skills to people.

I believe that today the value of a college degree comes more from proving ability and to some degree licensing, than of some knowledge or skill. I wish when people talk of education they would talk about what people need to know and what skills they need to have to live a better life rather than as we talk now about getting degrees, about test scores and about international competition. Then we can talk about how to get valuable knowledge and skill to people most efficiently. (For efficient diffusion of knowledge I like TV and the internet. The next question is how can we get more people to want to learn more. Maybe we should also ask should we, maybe it is none of my business.) In the end for overall society getting valuable knowledge and skills will produce more than giving more degrees.

Another question considering the current situation is: how many people lie about degrees on there resumes and job applications and why don’t more people lie? We know that some high profile people get caught lying about degrees from time to time.

ws1835 writes:

It is a commonly held view in my social circle (engineering and business) that a Bachelor's degree is purely a big paper hoop to jump through. And that opinion relates to our degrees which are fairly technical. The collective opinion regarding a Bachelor's degree in the humanities or social sciences is that it merely signifies that you paid your tuition and occasionally showed up for a mid term exam.

Neither I, or any of my peers, learned our essential job skills in college. Even though for engineers, it can be argued that the basic math that drives engineering practice is learned in college, the technical application of that knowledge is learned after graduation. Hence, in general a recently graduated engineer or accountant is no more knowledgeable or useful than an intern. I agree with some previous comments that graduation numbers are up, but quality is way down. I went through my bachelor's program in the early 90's, and the rot was already setting in.

The businesses I work with are now starting to react to this fact. It is now common to see HR folks focusing on prior work experience and demonstrated job skill rather than a degree. I think college degrees in many fields are now entering the realm where they mean more for social signaling than economic signaling.

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