Runs In Transit

Category: Education

The Value-Added of Going to Penn State… is Negative?

The Economist just released its first ever college rankings. Unlike most rankings, they use one criteria: value added, the earnings of graduates minus what they’re expected to earn anyway.

One of the most discussed topic in economics is whether education improves earnings. On the surface, it’s obvious: in 2010, men with a high school diploma earned a median income of $32,800. With a bachelor’s degree, their median income was $49,800. The problem is it’s impossible to determine whether or not those people would have made just as much anyway. A third variable, ability, is likely causing both but is impossible to determine. To estimate this, the Economist regresses SAT scores, race breakdown, college size, etc., to predict the expected income of students and compares it to what they actually make.

The top school? Washington and Lee University with a value added of $22,377. Surprisingly, my alma mater, Penn State, ranked a paltry 1045 with a value added of $-3,024.

Is this measure flawed? Of course. It’s impossible to quantify the value of going to a college in one number because there are a multitude of factors that contribute to school quality. A few reasons Penn State ranks so low:

  1. The rankings only use data from students who applied for federal aid. This skews the rankings towards schools with a high percentage of less well off students. Tuition to Penn State is $31,346 and federal aid is given sparingly, meaning lots of well off parents who fund their students tuition are left out of the data.
  2. Penn State is combined with all their branch campuses. There are 25 total campuses that serve 100,000 students, including World Campus, an online campus. Most branches operate as a feeder into the flagship campus University Park. Because the quality differs so much between campuses, combining them all biases the estimates downwards.
  3. The rankings aggregate across subjects and degrees. Penn State is a research university with lots of grad students. Looking at the income of the average student in ten years isn’t accurate because many of these students will stay in school and have income trajectories that peak much later in their lives (think doctors and professors).

There are plenty other reasons the rankings aren’t accurate. For one, peer effects, including networking, aren’t taken into account. Penn State has 645,000 alumni spread around the world, and the benefit of being in a network that large are huge and last an entire career.

I’m not saying there’s no value in these rankings. I think looking at education through a different lens is needed. As tuition skyrockets and a higher degree becomes necessary to compete, these questions need to be asked. Maybe the value-added of going to a school is the most important factor in school choice. As for my alma mater, you may not add as much monetary value as many schools, but it’s definitely far from negative. psu_2010-17-1

Does School Hurt Creativity?

For the past week I’ve been trying to think of something to write about, lest my $18 a year subscription to WordPress is wasted. I wondered why I had so much trouble, and then I realized it might be school. It makes perfect sense-because I’m taught material every day and forced to read, study, and do problem sets, my cognitive power is severely limited when it comes to other pursuits, namely creative endeavors. Modern education forces you into narrow fields of thinking through memorization and regurgitation. At the end of the day, your brain is left in anemic state where all you want to do is sleep. The next morning, you wake up and start again.

A TED talk by Ken Robinson popped in my head. It’s basic idea is that we are born artists, but the institution of schooling prepares us to work by giving us strict rules, telling us to follow orders, and hammering the idea that academic skills like math and reading are the most important things in life. When we say someone is “smart”, we are always referring to their academic intelligence, proven by grades. But intelligence is so much more than that. Everyone is intelligent in their own way, and often equally important forms of such as social intelligence, visual intelligence, and musical intelligence are discarded. The world is not a strict path from point A to point B. We need people of all skills and experiences to support the human existence. Preparing students for industrial success is not enough.

What should be done is tough to speak on, but I believe we will need a new conception of education to fully utilize our capabilities, and I know creativity is one capability that has suffered. When I was a child, I brimmed with ideas and had ways of expressing them. I painted, acted, and daydreamed every day. Upon entering school, my creativity was reserved for pursuits in a few art classes. After college, I tried to pursue creative activities, but it was rare and never a part of my education. Traveling was one of the few sources of inspiration and allowed me to write vivid thoughts and ideas that I could not grasp normally. As I return to the familiar structure of school, my creativity also returns to its normative state, one that is constantly restricted and stripped of its qualities.

Today I want to challenge myself to break free of the restrictive nature of education. I seek to be inspired and create something every day. Because although schooling helps us obtain a comfortable material life, to constrain your mind while doing so is a terrible thing. To be healthy mentally in the present is a worthy long-term goal. I’ll keep writing this blog and practice both the medium as well as the act of getting ideas out. If this sounds interesting, write a poem, I dare you. 4085284777_ea1dc120ae