Is education a process by which individuals acquire useful skills, or one whereby individuals who already possess skills set themselves apart from others? In theory, the distinction between these two visions of the education process carry radically different implications for whether education is an enterprise worthy of public subsidy. While it’s hard to argue that either theory is completely false, much ink has been spilt in the tussle over whether one or the other predominates. Prior estimates of the proportion of returns to education attributable to signaling range from 10% to 80%.
In practice, argues Nick Huntington-Klein, these models are so difficult to disentangle from one another that there’s no point trying.
Huntington-Klein’s persuasive if somewhat depressing argument begins with a basic mediating variables framework: if there is a causal link between education and individual outcomes, signaling and human…
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