orgtheory poll: college and jobs

In the social sciences, there’s a big debate over schooling and income. One theory, human capital, says that school gives you specific skills. The major alternative is that school is a de facto IQ test. You don’t learn many job skills in college, but employers pay more for college graduates because they have shown a basic level of discipline and intelligence. This theory is called signalling. What do you think?

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Written by fabiorojas

November 23, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Posted in economics, education, fabio

4 Responses

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  1. I think it’s some of both, but I think the signalling isn’t just an IQ signalling, except to the extent that IQ is itself signalling class background, at least in substantial part. College is a sorting mechanism that allows in the vast majority of the children of the privileged, and the most talented and/or hard-working and/or lucky of the children of the disadvantaged. So entering and completing college signals a lot more (and less) than IQ. AND it teaches skills beyond those that are directly related to productivity – how to talk like an educated person, ideally, among other things – i.e. cultural capital, not just human capital. Not that I think that employers are consciously thinking “ooh, college education = privileged person like me” or anything like that, but I think college degrees signal that someone will fit in in a professionalized workplace, either through their upbringing or what they’ve hopefully learned in college. (Not to mention the whole issue of the signalling of *which* college one went to…)


    Daniel L

    November 23, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  2. No love for college as a place to develop social capital? Oh wait… (almost) no one has studied that.


    Chris Takacs

    November 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm

  3. Must agree with Chris that higher education is also important because it fosters connections and relationships. Splitting 50/50 between human capital and signalling misses out on this other important aspect of higher education.

    So while the degree acts as a signal, the relationships individuals form with educators are important too. Professors and educators can help students with recommendations. These relationships and recommendations give employers some perspective on the capacity of students to complete work, be responsible and accountable. So in that sense, it’s not just the degree as a signal, but also the kinds of relationships students are able to create.

    Not to mention how friendships relationships fostered within school can assist individuals after school. Granovetter showed some of this through his strength of weak ties argument and in his book Getting a Job. Others have shown this with respect to the marriage market, though the web might be changing this a bit too.


    Scott Dolan

    November 23, 2011 at 8:33 pm

  4. Confirmation bias! I have a general theory, based on my experience in security (BS crim; MA social sci), that when you say “most people” you mean “I”. Even the Harris Poll does not know “most people.” College does this… gives that… meets the other… You only know your own experience. Is there any sampling data? (And it would report statistics about large numbers across ranges (1.8% this… 35% the other… ) and therefore miss the salient outliers such as Ben & Jerrys or Mondragon or being a Mom & Pop Microsoft Developer or working part time for three of them in three different capacities.

    And what school did you go to? Chicago? Harvard? I went to several over 40 years of constant upskilling as a computer programmer and technical writer before completing my degrees at Eastern Michigan University. I chose EMU over the U of M because I liked the older hard-working people at the midrange midwest state school. I am a blue collar snob and the kids at U of M are largely younger, suburban, white collar with no clue about how the world really works.

    (For a community college crim class, I attended two mock criminal trials at the U of M law school. The “attorneys” attempted to upstage each other with points of law while the argument languished. The undergrads on my juries simply refused to listen when I said that in criminology, we know that the police often arrest the wrong suspect and that witness testimony is often faulty. Why pay attention to an old guy from the community college? At WCC and EMU my student peers did not marginalize me because one look around any classroom showed broad diversity. At U of M, diversity was lacking; and that allows the confirmation bias. )

    My wife and I returned to school specifically because it became impossible to even get interviews without bachelor’s degrees.

    I have no idea what kinds of recommendations professors give. None of the profs who gave me the A grades resulting in my summa cum laude matriculation would write letters of recommendation for graduate school, so I stayed at EMU for my MA. I then had a different cohort of profs who were more than supportive (I can use them for references) but not yet helpful as none of them knew the markets I pursue in private security. I just started (again) as a $10/hour patroller (full time), which makes it hard to pay off the $78,000 in student loans. Meanwhile, I continue to look for much better rewards as a technical writer, now that I can exceed the requirement for a bachelor’s degree.

    All of which is to say that there are as many stories as there are graduates.


    Michael Marotta

    November 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm

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