College in the Wild

Here is an interesting article titled “The Great College Hoax” which was emailed to me by an avid reader.

Here is an excerpt from the article:
“College graduates will earn $1 million more than those with only a high school diploma, brags Mercy College radio ads running in the New York area. The $1 million shibboleth is a favorite of college barkers.

Like many good cons, this one contains a kernel of truth. Census figures show that college grads earn an average of $57,500 a year, which is 82% more than the $31,600 high school alumni make. Multiply the $25,900 difference by the 40 years the average person works and, sure enough, it comes to a tad over $1 million.

But anybody who has gotten a passing grade in statistics knows what’s wrong with this line of argument. A correlation between B.A.s and incomes is not proof of cause and effect. It may reflect nothing more than the fact that the economy rewards smart people and smart people are likely to go to college. To cite the extreme and obvious example: Bill Gates is rich because he knows how to run a business, not because he matriculated at Harvard. Finishing his degree wouldn’t have increased his income.” – The Great College Hoax, Kathy Kristof 02.02.09, 12:00 AM ET

This is a good point, but I wouldn’t say that the statement “College graduates will earn $1 million more than those with only a high school diploma” only contains “a kernel of truth”. I would say that it is a completely accurate statement. College graduates do earn more than those with a high school diploma. She herself cites the census as proof of this statement.

She also points out that just because Bachelor’s degrees are correlated with higher incomes doesn’t necessarily mean that Bachelor’s degrees cause higher income. That’s true. But isn’t it at least possible that Bachelor’s degrees do cause higher income?

And, finally, isn’t her argument about understanding the difference between correlation versus causation a subtle argument for more people to take statistics classes? Maybe in college? Because education is important? It’s likely that she, herself, learned of this concept in a statistics class at her alma mater, the University of Southern California.

The bottom line here is that statistics are important for navigating the modern world that we live in and a great place to learn about statistical concepts (as well as many other worth academic pursuits) is in college. In learning about these, however, no student should have to go so far into debt that they are financially ruined for the next ten, twenty, thirty years and even possibly the rest of their lives.


Posted on February 10, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. this blog should be called “Stats in the Wind.”

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