Does higher education change non-cognitive skills?

There is a new study on this very important question:

We examine the effect of university education on students’ non-cognitive skills (NCS) using high-quality Australian longitudinal data. To isolate the skill-building effects of tertiary education, we follow the education decisions and NCS—proxied by the Big Five personality traits—of 575 adolescents over eight years. Estimating a standard skill production function, we demonstrate a robust positive relationship between university education and extraversion, and agreeableness for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The effects are likely to operate through exposure to university life rather than through degree-specific curricula or university-specific teaching quality. As extraversion and agreeableness are associated with socially beneficial behaviours, we propose that university education may have important non-market returns.

That is from Sonja C. Kassenboehmer, Felix Leung, and Stefanie Schurer in the new Oxford Economic Papers.  Here is a much older, non-gated version.

These results seem broadly consistent with the 1960s “schooling of society,” conformist, Marxian critiques of education.  It is striking that higher education does not have more of a notable, measurable impact on either openness or conscientiousness.

In passing, I would like to note that I am not crazy about the term “non-cognitive” in this context.


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