By Cristina M. Stanica, Ph.D. Candidate, School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware
David Deming, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, recipient of the Kershaw Award, discussed the importance of expanding access to high quality post-secondary education in the United States. He considers that low access to this type of education is the main cause of economic inequality and addressed the gaps that emerge in terms of differences in spending levels by institution types, distribution in access by family income, and differences in post-secondary education resource allocation. The lecture pointed towards equalizing access to post-secondary education as the main policy solution, and presented the main trends in college attainment, parent income distribution at Harvard University, and tertiary education completion in OECD countries by age groups. In considering the impact of education, the lecture focused on the long-run impacts of early interventions, school finance reform and impacts of spending on long-run outcomes, the role of teachers and classrooms, charter schools, and school quality.
The main finding of the study indicates strong causal evidence that college education affects earnings and other important no-pecuniary outcomes. However, there is little or no evidence on what mechanisms are needed to improve quality of college education and equal access to resources. The main policy implications of this evidence suggests that the new role of education needs to include educating students towards acquiring skills that help filter the high volume of information that they receive, and towards improving their social interaction skills and their capacity of efficiently working in teams. Last but not least, the desired set of skills includes high-problem-solving critical analysis, flexibility and communication. Even if the human capital model does not capture this idea very well, a broad high-quality college education has the capacity to absorb, categorize, and filter information into useful ‘schemes’ that aid decision-making processes.