Education as signaling

If you needed evidence that higher education is just about signaling quality rather than actually, you know, improving it, here it is. The Ivy League schools have the smartest incoming freshman but they are the worst in improving their students’ civil knowledge.

While you’re at it, take the quiz. I missed two. The first is number 5. I’m a dunce when it comes to knowledge about the Civil and Revolutionary War battles. The second I’m embarrassed by. I thought “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” came from the Preamble to the Constitution.

8 thoughts on “Education as signaling”

  1. Hm, I missed 15. Not bad considering that my degree is far removed from any of these topics, and I took my last civics class as an undergrad. I probably guessed on at least half of the questions (implying that the rest was filled by shady best guesses of facts gleaned from newspaper articles and crackerjack boxes).

    No fair criticizing business and law schools on this stuff. Every hour spent teaching constitutional theory is one less hour of vital PowerPoint training.

    I wonder what the international results would look like.

  2. I’m sure, I dunno, let’s say, Italy might have some interesting stuff in their history to build a set of civics lessons around. Maybe. My question is whether or not this gap in civics knowledge and retention is strictly a modern American affair.

  3. The thingy where their senior scores are generally the highest or the thingy where they showed a slight degradation in civics scores between freshmen and seniors? This begs the question: “Is our children learning?”

    I’m very slightly depressed about these scores. My cold guessing strategy put me slightly above the Harvard average (if I read those tables right).

    I suppose I should read your links before commenting. I read “signaling quality” as “signal quality,” and vaguely thought that you were arguing that Ivy league schools had reputations for fielding better lecturers or something. I don’t see any gaping flaws in a cursory examination of signaling theory. Negative signaling theory definitely seems to hold true. If you go to a (perceived) mediocre school, your perceived value definitely appears to go down.

    What are proponents of signaling theory proposing, though? The ability to make poorly informed snap judgments about complete strangers is the cornerstone of our civilization. What do they suggest we replace that with?

  4. The signaling thingy is that degrees are just pieces of paper that said “hey I went to Harvard I must be smart” rather than something that indicates “hey, I went to Harvard were I learned lots of things.” The former seems to be more the case in Ivy league schools.

    This is slightly depressing for someone who thinks their actually imparting something onto their students.

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