Thursday, May 26, 2011

A great economist challenges a great journalist

David Leonhardt posits:
The United States no longer leads the world in educational attainment, partly because so few low-income students — and surprisingly few middle-income students — graduate from four-year colleges. Getting more of these students into the best colleges would make a difference. Many higher-income students would still graduate from college, even if they went to a less elite one. A more educated population, in turn, would probably lift economic growth.
Greg Mankiw responds:
The finding [that students from higher income backgrounds have significantly higher grades throughout college conditional on college entrance exam (ACT) scores] is the opposite of what the Leonhardt story suggests. What this means is that if you are a college admissions officer trying to identify the students who will do best in college, as measured by grades, you would give positive rather than negative weight on family income. I am not proposing that they should do this, as colleges have many goals when putting together a class. But it does seem that the hypothesis implicit in Leonhardt's article is not supported by the data.
There's a lot to think about here. For one, Peter Thiel's program to incent kids not to go to college, because we have too many college graduates. But the biggest thought is, what are we trying to normalize here: intelligence, income, or status? Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling have interesting thoughts.

As much as I am a fan of great journalism, I still think that my engineering curriculum was a lot more challenging than any journalism program anywhere.  I concede I'm not a great writer, storyteller, or entertainer.  That's why I talk to my computer more than people for a living.

I think Mankiw is more evidence-based than Leonhardt, and I weight my truth sourcing portfolio accordingly.  I don't believe I can improve things until I know where things are first.

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