the one with the argument about elite college education

Here we go again: A famous paper by Dale and Krueger claims that going to an elite college doesn’t matter. Their proof: students admitted to more selective schools who instead go to other schools make just as much as those who enrolled in the selective schools. Settled? Not so fast. Robin Hanson kicks up dust by going back and rereading the papers. First, there is an effect – if you don’t use any control variables. Second, there is an effect of selectivity if you use a selectivity measure other than college SAT. If you use the Barron’s selectivity index and tuition charged, then you get effects.

The comments at Hanson’s blog and Marginal are both worth reading. A few good points: people who select into less competitive schools may be less motivated; tuition may correlated with family SES and family connections can get you into the right jobs; the Dale and Krueger paper does not control for occupation; elite schools tend to be stepping stones to absurdy well paying sectors like finance. Bottom line: colleges sort both on family and ability/drive, so you can find a regression to suit your taste. Other views? Dead horses are available in the comment section.

Written by fabiorojas

March 24, 2009 at 2:47 am

Posted in economics, education, fabio

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. There are a lot of problems with their design, as pointed out in the comments, that have to do with the size of their cells. Standard errors are high, and they throw away a lot of the data.

    However, because it appears that bias works in favor of more talented students favoring more selective schools, it should be possible to get an upper bound of the benefit of attending a selective school.

    Hanson picks up an interesting point. Though the positive effect of attending a competitive school as judged by Barron’s made the abstract of the working paper (22% increase in income by attending the most selective schools), the authors run no such regression in the 2002 QJE paper. The authors state that that the results are “similar” to the case of attending a school with high average SAT score–which is insignificant under most specifications.

    But why not just report the coefficient on Barron’s selectivity with the matched students in the final paper–or at least tell me why this estimate changed drastically upon publication? If this is in fact near zero, then I think we can fairly conclusively say that the benefits of attending a selective school are low in general. If this is positive–and there are some hints that it might be (attending a ‘top’ private or public school yields high returns, but no matching was done in this case. Paying higher tuition appears to be a worthwhile investment, but of course if you have loans to pay off, then you self-select into a better career.)–then we are back to debating whether the benefits of attending a good colleges are due to student ability or selective colleges; human capital or signaling–at least until they find a better instrument.



    March 24, 2009 at 5:28 am

  2. Well the other obvious issue that no one seems to address is the assumption that level of income is a good measuring device for college’s “worth.” Sure it’s important, and I won’t knock anyone who goes to fluff their bottom line, but isn’t there something to be said for how college changes you as a human being?

    A more selective school will likely expose you to a higher quality of campus speakers, a group of colleagues who are more motivated, intelligent, diverse and interesting as well as superior programs in art, music and other “intangibles” that can shape who you are as a human being and open up new horizons. Money is important, but it’s not the only thing to consider.



    March 29, 2009 at 12:29 pm

  3. The topic is quite hot in the net right now. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write ?


    Heartburn Home Remedy

    April 15, 2009 at 12:12 pm

  4. […] 24Mar: Good discussions at Marginal Revolution, Hacker News, and Org Theory. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "College Prestige Lies", url: […]


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: