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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.

  • 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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  • Do higher levels of education and skills in an area benefit wider society? Updated

    Education benefits individuals, but the societal benefits are likely even greater

    John V. Winters, December 2018
    Formal schooling increases earnings and provides other individual benefits. However, societal benefits of education may exceed individual benefits. Research finds that higher average education levels in an area are correlated with higher earnings, even for local residents with minimal education. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates appear to generate especially strong external effects, due to their role in stimulating innovation and economic growth. Several strategies to test for causality find human capital externalities do exist.
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  • The role of cognitive and socio-emotional skills in labor markets

    Cognitive skills are more relevant in explaining earnings, socio-emotional skills in determining labor supply and schooling

    Pablo AcostaNoël Muller, October 2018
    Common proxies, such as years of education, have been shown to be ineffective at capturing cross-country differences in skills acquisition, as well as the role they play in the labor market. A large body of research shows that direct measures of skills, in particular cognitive and socio-emotional ones, provide more adequate estimations of individuals’ differences in potential productive capacity than the quantity of education they receive. Evidence shows that cognitive skills in particular are quite relevant to explain wages, while socio-emotional skills are more associated with labor force and education participation decisions.
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