Friday, December 18, 2009

A Curious Take on College Education

I can't match Will's economics rap songs (or his developing the phrase "Juicing the Mitchell"-- Will's had a solid first year here at TPS), but I do send along this bit on Pell Grants. Note that the author would certainly fall into the skill accumulation camp, not the signaling camp, for a college education. It's an interesting, if ill-reasoned, take on college education as a whole. My thoughts:

1. The author is skeptical about the ability to determine which colleges are doing well While I agree that it's not exact, I think the situation is nowhere near as dire as the author makes it out to be. Even if it's broad, US News & World Report gives a one-stop picture of colleges and provides a rudimentary metric by which to compare them to each other.

2. The author attributes the inability to track good outcomes with the staggering rise in the price of a college education. I don't see the link. Though I've seen research that attributes over half the rise in the price of a college education to forcing colleges to follow a multitude of regulations.

3. Reputation effects are huge for colleges with regards to which graduates do well and where employers will look in the future based on those previous graduates.

4. Assume colleges were strictly skill accumulation academies. If that's the case, there's a massive information opportunity to provide that information in a condensed, easy to access form. Last I checked, there were a lot of people buying a lot of rankings just like these. See #1.

5. It's puzzling to me why choosing a college based on reputation is bad. I suppose it's because I realize that there's a large signaling process in earning a college degree from a reputable school. Though the author even says "reputations are based on...admissions selectivity..." I mean, sweet crispy Christ, he's right there and still can't see it.

6. In the eyes of the author, the value of college is a function of its ability to teach students. Research is excluded, and even the possibility of teaching being a function of research is ignored.

7. In the broad sense, the intimate that students (and parents) are making information-blind decisions concerning one of the most important choices in their life is a bit juvenile.

This article reaffirms the proposition that anything with "Democracy" in the title-- organization, publication, etc.-- is likely to be heading in the wrong direction.


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