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Higher education and human capital

Human capital is the stock of skills, knowledge, and social and personality attributes that influence people’s ability to produce economic value from their labor. Undertaking higher education is one method of accumulating human capital. It can result in overeducation and skills mismatch for some, while others may not find the economic returns from attending higher education to be financially beneficial. However, carefully designed and targeted careers information and advice can improve students’ knowledge about the costs and benefits of educational investments. Further, expanding the skill base of the labor force may lead to lower levels of wealth inequality for all.

  • What is the nature and extent of student–university mismatch?

    Students do worse if their abilities fail to match the requirements of the institutions where they matriculate

    A growing body of research has begun to examine the match between student ability and university quality. Initial research focused on overmatch—where students are lower attaining than their college peers. However, more recently, attention has turned to undermatch, where students attend institutions with lower attaining peers. Both have been shown to matter for student outcomes; while in theory overmatch could be desirable, there is evidence that overmatched students are less likely to graduate college. Undermatched students, meanwhile, have been shown to experience lower graduate earnings.
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  • Overeducation, skill mismatches, and labor market outcomes for college graduates Updated

    Concerns exist that overeducation damages employee welfare; however it is overeducation combined with overskilling that is the real problem

    Evidence shows that many college graduates are employed in jobs for which a degree is not required (overeducation), and in which the skills they learned in college are not being fully utilized (overskilling). Policymakers should be particularly concerned about widespread overskilling, which is likely to be harmful to both the welfare of employees and the interests of employers as both overeducation and overskilling can lead to frustration, lower wages, and higher quitting rates while also being a waste of government money spent on education.
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  • Understanding teacher effectiveness to raise pupil attainment

    Teacher effectiveness has a dramatic effect on student outcomes—how can it be increased?

    Simon Burgess, December 2019
    Teacher effectiveness is the most important component of the education process within schools for pupil attainment. One estimate suggests that, in the US, replacing the least effective 8% of teachers with average teachers has a present value of $100 trillion. Researchers have a reasonable understanding of how to measure teacher effectiveness; but the next step, understanding the best ways to raise it, is where the research frontier now lies. Two areas in particular appear to hold the greatest promise: reforming hiring practices and contracts, and reforming teacher training and development.
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  • University study abroad and graduates’ employability Updated

    There is a positive association between study abroad and graduates’ job prospects, though it is unclear if the link is causal

    Giorgio Di Pietro, May 2019
    In recent decades, the number of university students worldwide who have received some part of their education abroad has been rising rapidly. Despite the popularity of international student exchange programs, however, debate continues over what students actually gain from this experience. A major advantage claimed for study abroad programs is that they can enhance employability by providing graduates with the skills and experience employers look for. These programs are also expected to increase the probability that graduates will work abroad, and so may especially benefit students willing to pursue an international career. However, most of the evidence is qualitative and based on small samples.
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  • Do school inputs crowd out parents’ investments in their children?

    Public education tends to crowd out parents’ time and money, but careful policy design may mitigate this

    Birgitta Rabe, May 2019
    Many countries around the world are making substantial and increasing public investments in children by providing resources for schooling from early years through to adolescence. Recent research has looked at how parents respond to children’s schooling opportunities, highlighting that public inputs can alternatively encourage or crowd out parental inputs. Most evidence finds that parents reduce their own efforts as schooling improves, dampening the efficiency of government expenditure. Policymakers may thus want to focus government provision on schooling inputs that are less easily substituted.
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  • Labor market consequences of the college boom around the world Updated

    Better information on university quality may reduce underemployment and overeducation in developing countries

    As the number of secondary school graduates rises, many developing countries expand the supply of public and private universities or face pressure to do so. However, several factors point to the need for caution, including weak job markets, low-quality university programs, and job–education mismatches. More university graduates in this context could exacerbate unemployment, underemployment, and overeducation of professionals. Whether governments should regulate the quantity or quality of university programs, however, depends on the specific combination of factors in each country.
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