Is higher ed creating inequality?

Has higher education become an engine of inequality? 

More colleges are awarding credits for competence rather than class time.

About Joanne


  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    Has higher education become an engine of inequality?

    Yes. As has high school, middle school, and elementary school.

    Two things stand out in education research:

    1. An extremely good predictor of how well students do in school is the socio-economic status of their family. Kids from richer families do better in school.

    2. The more schooling a person has, the more (on average), that person makes.

    Put the two together and you find that, far from making things more equal, schools serve as a major part of the “inter-generational transmission of inequality.”

    • And a corollary is, if we could make life outcomes more related to what the person can do and less related to the educational credentials s/he has, we would reduce inequality.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    Why is it impossible? Most employers are interested in how well an employee can do the job. They are not directly interested in how many courses the employee has completed.

    • Actually, Roger, it seems most employers are interested in the bachelor’s degree as a screening device. Otherwise, they conduct hiring based on how well they can complete tasks. The BS/BA has become the de facto benchmark for “how well the applicant will be able to do the job.”

      This is one of our biggest problems – but from an efficiency standpoint, it can also be a fairly effective measuring stick.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I agree. As I said, employers “are not directly interested in how many courses the employee has completed.” They are interested in how that (especially the completion of a degree) signals Bryan Caplan’s trinity of “intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity.”

        Employers are legally prohibited from determining an employee’s intelligence (and must be careful that an applicant doesn’t try to volunteer, say, the results of an IQ test). Tests to determine conscientiousness and conformity are also pretty much impossible to pass legal muster. Looking for successful course completion is a second best way of finding out these things. Importantly, it doesn’t directly cost the employer anything. Costs are born by the employee and the taxpaying public.

  3. Uhm …. among other things … yes.

  4. Pfft…

    I’ve interviewed persons who had no high school diploma (and some college) who have done better than persons with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Now the the non-diploma holder actually spent time building his own stuff, learning the nuts and bolts on his own (which is why he got hired).

    Sounds like using the BA/BS as a measuring stick isn’t a very good one (IMO).