Archives for Education



The Economics of Higher Education, Part 1: Science Is Hard

If you are the sort of person who worries that the U.S. is not producing enough college graduates with science degrees, it’s worth wondering exactly why that is. In a new working paper, Ralph Stinebrickner and Todd R. Stinebrickner offer a compelling answer: science is hard. Here’s the abstract (sorry, full paper seems to be gated).

Taking advantage of unique longitudinal data, we provide the first characterization of what college students believe at the time of entrance about their final major, relate these beliefs to actual major outcomes, and, provide an understanding of why students hold the initial beliefs about majors that they do. The data collection and analysis are based directly on a conceptual model in which a student’s final major is best viewed as the end result of a learning process.  We find that students enter school quite optimistic/interested about obtaining a science degree, but that relatively few students end up graduating with a science degree.  The substantial overoptimism about completing a degree in science can be attributed largely to students beginning school with misperceptions about their ability to perform well academically in science.

Do we file this item under “overconfidence” or “good gatekeeping”?



FREAK-est Links

1. Six female scientists who didn’t get their due.

2. Why kids in France don’t get ADHD.

3. When averages don’t tell the story: the U.S. has many of the world’s brightest students, and also a lot of low-scoring students.

4. Reverse colonialism: high unemployment at home drives Spanish youth to Latin America.

5. The psychology of hoarding. Read More »



Convincing Kids to Go to College

A new NBER working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Scott E. Carrell and Bruce Sacerdote finds that educational incentives, even those that are offered to students late in their senior year of high school, can impact college outcomes.  Here’s the abstract:

We present evidence from an ongoing field experiment in college coaching/ mentoring. The experiment is designed to ask whether mentoring plus cash incentives provided to high school students late in their senior year have meaningful impacts on college going and persistence. For women, we find large impacts on the decision to enroll in college and to remain in college. Intention to treat estimates are an increase in 15 percentage points in the college going rate (against a base rate of 50 percent) while treatment on the treated estimates are 30 percentage points. Offering cash bonuses alone without mentoring has no effect. There are no effects for men in the sample. The absence of effects for men is not explained by an interaction of the program with academic ability, work habits, or family and guidance support for college applications. However, differential returns to college and/or occupational choice may explain some of the differences in treatment effects for men and women.



It’s Crowded at the Top: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest podcast, “Crowded at the Top,” presents a surprising explanation for why the U.S. unemployment rate is still relatively high. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)

It features a conversation with the University of British Columbia economist Paul Beaudry, one of the authors (along with David Green and Benjamin Sand) of a new paper called “The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks“: Read More »



FREAK-est Links

1. First-year medical residents made more mistakes when they were required to work fewer hours.

2. Automated education: EdX offers classes online, marks essays and tests.

3. Telemedicine has doctors in Texas treating patients in Antarctica.

4. The history of capitalism is all the rage in history departments.

5. More Nutella thieving: this time it’s not Columbia University students.



Parents and Their Preschoolers

A working paper (abstract; PDF) from economists Michael Baker and Kevin Milligan advances another possible explanation for the lagging academic performance of boys — preschool boys, at least.  Here’s the abstract:

We study differences in the time parents spend with boys and girls at preschool ages in Canada, the UK and the US. We refine previous evidence that fathers commit more time to boys, showing this greater commitment emerges with age and is not present for very young children. We next examine differences in specific parental teaching activities such as reading and the use of number and letters. We find the parents commit more of this time to girls, starting at ages as young as 9 months. We explore possible explanations of this greater commitment to girls including explicit parental preference and boy-girl differences in costs of these time inputs. Finally, we offer evidence that these differences in time inputs are important: in each country the boy-girl difference in inputs can account for a non-trivial proportion of the boy-girl difference in preschool reading and math scores.

The authors’ results also indicate that the time differences are not due to parents’ gender preferences, but may be related to the opportunity cost of the mother’s time.  “Given that time spent reading with children (primarily boys) increases after the introduction of a new child care subsidy, the parental time inputs we study may not be easily substituted by non-parental care,” they write. “Instead, this finding is consistent with a story in which boys are less rewarding to teach, and parents are more willing to persevere with boys once they are not responsible for their care throughout the day.”



One University That Isn’t Cutting Costs

A Washington Post profile of Liberty University, founded in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, says that Liberty has doubled its enrollment in the last six years:

The surging enrollment for a bastion of Christian conservatism in the central Virginia foothills highlights the school as a market leader at the crossroads of religion and higher education. Liberty figured out how to recruit masses of students via the Internet years before elite universities began ballyhooed experiments with free online courses.

Turbocharged growth inevitably raises questions about quality, and Liberty’s academic reputation has not risen as fast as its enrollment. About 47 percent of its first-time, full-time students graduate within six years, federal data show, below the national average of 58 percent. Liberty officials say such statistics reflect an admissions policy geared more toward opportunity than exclusivity.

And Liberty is doing well on the finance front too: “The university ended 2012 with more than $1 billion in net assets for the first time, counting cash, property, investments and other holdings. That is 10 times what the school had in 2006.”

(HT: Marginal Revolution)



What Will the Sequester Do to Education Spending in Your State?

With the sequester looming large, Business Insider has created a  set of interactive maps to demonstrate which states will be hit the hardest by cuts to the education budget. “The report [from the National Education Association] claims that, if the cuts kick in, 7.4 million students would be affected — which means that either the quality of education they receive will go down or be eliminated entirely. The funding cuts could also lead to 49,365 potential job losses,” writes Lisa Mahapatra. “But not all states will feel the hit equally. With more than $100 million cuts to their education budget, the states that will be most affected by the sequester are California, Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida.”