Signaling vs. certification at Harvard

Harvard will be teaching solely on-line this fall (with some students in residence), yet charging full tuition rates.  Many commentators are thus suggesting this supplies evidence for the signaling theory of education.

But not exactly.  The signaling theory, taken quite literally, is that education is a very difficult set of hurdles to surmount, and if you can get through Harvard you must be really really smart and hard-working.  Caltech maybe, but Harvard like Stanford and many other top schools makes it pretty easy to get through with OK enough grades.

The hard part about Harvard is getting in.  By selecting you, Harvard certifies you (as long as you are not part of “the 43% percent,” legacy, athletes, etc…but wait that counts too!).

Why isn’t there a service that just certifies you directly?  Surely you could run a clone of the Harvard admissions department pretty cheaply.

Perhaps the logical conclusion is that both the “social connections/dating” services of Harvard and the certification services of Harvard are strong complements.  If you are certified by Harvard, but live on a desert island, or carry a contagious disease, that certification is worth much less.  So it is hard to unbundle the services and sell the certification on its own, without the associated social networks.  Nor is it so worthwhile to sell the social connections on their own.  Harvard grads are socially connected to their dry cleaning workers as it stands, but that does not do those workers much good.

It takes a good deal more work to get signaling to enter this story.  In the signaling story, you can’t tell who is high quality without actually running the tournament, and that is more or less the opposite of the certification story.

Keep also in mind that the restricted Harvard services are probably only for one year (or less), so most students will still get three years or more of “the real Harvard,” if that is what they value.  And they can use intertemporal substitution to do more networking in the remaining three years.  It’s like being told you don’t get to watch the first quarter of a really great NBA game.  That is a value diminution to be sure, but there will still be enough people willing to buy the fancy seats.  Most viewers in the arena don’t watch more than three quarters of the game to begin with.


Sophomores and juniors will be fine - many of them do semesters/years abroad in this period of college anyway.

Freshman will have a very difficult time getting socially oriented and things will more or less suck until their sophomore year. They will lean hard on their high school social networks until then, which are likely much less valuable (in professional and economic terms).

Seniors will feel that they have been denied something of great value, but they will be able to more or less maintain the strong social networks they built over the last three years.

Some parents may even be happy to be spared the highway robbery of room & board.

I'm not sure that there is a lot of 'education' going on in colleges anymore. The purpose of going to Harvard is to get the degree that says 'Harvard' on it regardless of what if anything is learned while there.

Think of two types of Harvard students: call those that are admitted on academic merit "entrepreneurs" and call the legacies "VCs". If you're an "entrepreneur", say a talented scientist or engineer, you actually want to have "VCs" in your class as they might fund your company one day or hire you into a top job at their family firm. Note, the term "entrepreneur" applies broadly here to include say a talented econ student, for example. That student would benefit from being in the same class as "VCs" (again broadly understood) from prominent families like George W. Bush, who might become President one day and hire the econ "entrepreneur" as an advisor. Now, one might think that the fact that both "VCs" and "entrepreneurs" are officially called "students" and receive nominally identical degrees might dilute the signaling value of those degrees for the "entrepreneurs". However, by combining the Harvard degree with other information, most people seem to be able to figure out that W is the type of Harvard grad to contact for a job rather than the type to hire as an advisor.

Looks like Cornell is stealing a march on Harvard-

a tiramisu of satire

No kidding. He admits that Harvard does not provide anything special in terms of education, and it's all about Who You Know There. Yet he spends 7 paragraphs defending the place.

looks like the newwoketimes.con slept way late too late on the hong kong security crackdown

Leaving aside social networking, the biggest advantage of attending an elite institution with a considerable endowment is the opportunity for direct engagement with stellar professors who are leaders in their field, the chance to utilize the wealth of source materials close to hand at the college or university's libraries and museums, and the chance to take small seminar courses and thereby receive much more individualized attention. If you're determined to slide by, you can of course do so without availing yourself of any of these opportunities. But if you're the sort of hungry student who takes advantage of every resource offered to you, attending a Harvard or Amherst or Pomona will give you a distinct leg up educationally. The real "value diminution" is in the drastically reduced ability of such students to access those resources.

Let's assume you're right. What does Harvard actually DO in this picture? Your student could self-teach with books and online courses. Feynman self-taught a lot of his most important tooks. And your student still has legs with which to carry them to the professor for tutoring. They could work out an arrangement. Your amazing self-motivator would be fine either way.

Now tell me what Harvard actually DOES here. My suggestion: Keeps out a lot of poor kids who have just as much motivation, but don't have the connections to get in. And that's what the rich kids pay for. Often explicitly.

"Now tell me what Harvard actually DOES here. My suggestion: Keeps out a lot of poor kids who have just as much motivation, but don't have the connections to get in"

On the other hand, there is this:

I think 100% self-learning works for smart introverts and in some subjects (e.g. math or computer programming) but other subjects and other personality types work better through in-class discussions. Plato and Socrates would agree that philosophy is much more fun when there is someone to discuss it with and if you want to pick up Romanian or Japanese and don't know anyone who speaks these languages, your best source of practice is going to be classroom exercises.

The most dubious part of higher education -- and why the Harvard educational experience is overrated -- is that this most valuable part of instruction is often done by low-paid graduate students.

No, language learning is actually the perfect example of something you can do much better outside a classroom. There are vast resources online if you look beyond Duolingo, and native speakers to practice with.

Certification also matters less, since it will be instantly clear to native speakers whether or not you can actually communicate with them effectively. Nonetheless, meaningful credentials are often available by government-sponsored exam, bypassing entirely the university monopoly for most other subjects. An HSK6 certification for self-taught Chinese means a lot more in terms of actual proficiency than a PhD from any prestigious university.

That makes language learning an ideal way to occupy your time if you take a gap year instead of paying full freight for a Zoom education.

A classroom might still be needed for languages, mostly in the developing world, that have minimal online presence. But certainly not for languages like Romanian or Japanese.

Yes, buy the Pimsleur lessons for whatever language you want. New for lotsa money or used on ebay for a little. Thirty minutes a day and you will be fairly fluent in 1 month, and know a lot in 3 months. Then watch "real slow news in Spanish (or whatever)" and comprehension improves. Not hard but not easy. The hardest part is just sitting down and putting the lesson on.

As someone who has self-learned his entire life, I can attest that you can teach yourself a lot beyond math and CS. Sure, many subjects may require discussions. Hell, even math does. But then there is a large enough community of students online that are willing and indeed glad to help you out.

There is one thing, other than the prestige and certification, that college education provides: the ability to communicate face-to-face. That's undoubtedly an important skill, though may not stay that way for long considering how quickly work is moving online.

There's a lot of talk about teaching yourself but how many young people actually teach themselves a broad array of subjects? Yes, there are certainly plenty of students that are really interested in a particular subject that they can easily learn the material. But how many are actually going to learn all the subjects well enough to test well on it?

"attending a Harvard or Amherst or Pomona will give you a distinct leg up educationally"

LOL. Liberal arts expertise is not real expertise.

The extent of the library collections at Harvard is amazing. The ability to hop from your dorm or other housing right to the book on the shelf far exceeds the availability of these books online. And then there is the serendipitous discovery of the books you encounter while searching for a particular one. You can flip through in seconds to see whether you can use it. Online search engines are driven by algorithms other than one’s own, fueled by a combination of ideology and ads. The libraries also provide many private cubbyholes, some hidden several floors underground, with nothing to distract. So just physical library access adds value. At Harvard, you can’t just buy access or get a community membership. You have to be an enrolled student or an alumnus.

We also forget that the alternative of going to Harvard for a student with the chops to get accepted (without a legacy backdoor) is also potentially very educational. We don't have much data because most Harvard-material 17-year-olds actually go to Harvard or similar. But if they took a job instead, they it would likely be a pretty impressive job where they end up building something real under the supervision of industry leaders. Are they really learning less than college freshmen? They're definitely getting less "diversity" and library time than their Harvard-attending counterparts. The latter get force-fed books which include some true masterpieces that I think all smart people should read, but might not without college. But for that the college student spends their four years of maximum teachability mostly collecting credits for the degree rather than building something.

If capitalism were more efficient, rich companies would have at their core something like a working ersatz-college program for talented high school grads. They could make the pitch that if you got into Harvard, Caltech or MIT, you could show your acceptance letter and be auto-hired, spend some of your working time in activities that look a lot like seminars with age-peers under the tutelage of industry sages, and be groomed for future leadership by actual leaders rather than by professors, kings of nothing.

The point is that companies that hire Harvard grads for more than just ornamental reasons need to train them anyway, so why not hire and train a Harvard would-be-freshman-acceptee, pay her less (I mean, how much do you need to pay a 17-year-old?) and still benefit from her Harvard brain?

Imagine two 22-year-olds on the job market. One has an MIT degree at took part in some research project at the Media Lab. Impressive, sure. But the other one had worked for four years at Deepmind or SpaceX and actually played a role in building something big. That person may not have a degree, but who would pass her up? Why are corporations letting the universities eat all the most talented potential workers? They should be competing for them, especially now that college costs are crazy so they should be easy to pick off. Google, ATT and IBM also have gyms and cafeterias and quads and libraries. They've been known to employ Nobel laureates and other big brains that would make great advisors. But they're not making a play for the genius high school grads. Why not?

"But they're not making a play for the genius high school grads. Why not?"

Perhaps because, contrary to the assumptions and hyperbolic critiques of colleges in many of these comments, those students actually learn something in their four years of college and emerge, not better trained but better able to learn and grow from training and experience.

If the kid in question is Bill Gates then sure, he was ready to become an entrepreneur with minimal or no college. OTOH Steve Jobs eloquently described the value of taking seemingly random liberal arts classes at Reed College for two years (only one semester as an actual student; he sat in on classes the next year and half) to his future career.

But most high school graduates are not the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Most of them can't write well and don't read much or well or both, lack a sense of history, and often don't even know what they don't know, i.e. are unaware of the depth of their ignorance.

Make he test. The test vendor acquires the source material for one Harvard degree in X. The anyone who claims to have studies the material can take the test and become an equal Harvard grad. The vendort makes big bucks.

Ayn Rand Institute took bailout money. There are no objectivists in a pandemic. What does that signal?

Nothing wrong with that. If someone steals your money and you can get some of it back from them, why not? Moreover, if you believe as objectivists and many others do that many of the things the government does are malevolent, then I would argue that the morally correct thing to do is to take as much money from the government as possible so that it has fewer resources to pursue its malevolent ends.

Well, lots wrong with that.

If you think your government is a malevolent thief then move. Ask former Hong Kong residents for first hand experience.

If you take as much gov money as possible, then expect a massive audit as much as possible. With all the hassle of paperwork, scrutiny and potential penalties it might not be worth it.

If your philosophy is anti-redistribution and anti-welfare, then don't participate in redistribution and welfare schemes. Worse, if you do, don't justify it with a blog post that goes against your own founding beliefs. Better to admit you violated your own rules otherwise the self parody and mockery just writes itself.

Well, most countries have laws against immigration, and even if they didn’t, you shouldn’t have to abandon your own property because a thief breaks in.

You shouldn’t do anything illegal (and the Ayn Rand Institute isn’t). But if the government is offering money, then you should take it as long as the thing you are going to do with the money is less harmful than the worst thing the government could do with the money. That condition will be true for almost everyone.

Virtuous victimhood strikes again. When someone makes an argument to justify a course of action that just so happens to result in more money flowing into that person's pockets, the only response is, "interesting." Rand was a fan of Nietzsche in her younger years so she got this at some level.

If the schoolyard bully stole my lunch money every week, I'm not going to wait around for a partial refund. To do so means you've accepted the bully into your life.

That link is to an explicit explanation of the economic and (related) moral reasoning behind accepting this printed money. I don't know of any other organization that has done anything remotely similar. I read the whole piece and could not find a single untrue statement, and it lead logically to the conclusion that accepting the money is the right thing to do. I'd be interested in reading your critique.

Anyone who made such a certification test, or, to be more precise, any company who used such a test, would instantly be sued for racial discrimination. Oh, and their headquarters would probably be burned down by a mob. Companies get around Griggs and the mobs by letting Harvard do their dirty work.
Except for the NFL, of course. For some unknown reason.

Don’t lots of tech companies use IQ or IQ-like tests go hire?

IMO, the reason so many tech companies are super-woke is precisely to maintain their ability to hire on ability without having to make their engineering staff (currently overwhelmingly male and Asian/white) look like America.

Not in any ways that are scalable in the same sense that the ACT, SAT, or GRE are. To make such tests work, enormous effort has to go into making sure they can't be gamed or cheated on, something that becomes more and more difficult as the rewards for scoring highly become greater and greater.
Additionally, IQ testing doesn't measure work ethic except by correlation, and thus 4 years of learning how to solve math and engineering problems that were solved in 1850 provides additional information that a test alone can't give. But the test is the big thing. Reducing your potential candidates by 99.9% allows more detailed examination of the remaining candidates given time and resource constraints.

OK, so they could outsource the job to the actual Harvard. It would be easy and wouldn't even need Harvard's consent. The application process costs like fifty bucks, and if you're lower middle class, you get it waived. A company just needs to make a blanket promise that if you get into Harvard as a freshman but you don't go, the company hires you to a pretty cushy position where you get lots of high-level training, except they pay you instead of you paying them. It's akin to free-riding on someone Harvard's selection system, except that it's not quite free-riding. It's $50-riding. But given the obvious quality of the work, it's worth it. Harvard appears more reliable at spotting talent than are interviews with standard corporate HR (which btw is also not free).

"What [sic] isn’t there a service that just certifies you directly? Surely you could run a clone of the Harvard admissions department pretty cheaply."

(1) The admissions part is easily duplicated but not the 4-years-of-doing-something-you-hate part. How does one signal to employers one's ability to sit and be a good little peon?

(2) Because the vast majority of the population is convinced that education - excuse me, schooling - in America is actually productive. It's sacred and inarguable. Additionally, do you think the graduates of elite colleges are willing (able?) to admit their degrees were a waste of time? What about graduates from all colleges for that matter? Hell no. "Look at me. I'm a college graduate. Aren't you impressed?" People will never give this up.

This. Tyler is trying too hard to justify the bull.

Here's another take: Many Americans with a lawn waste thousands of gallons of water a year using backwards, stupid irrigation techniques. Sprinklers are going off in midday (evaporation) or during rains (dumb timers) and spraying all over the road. You can get equal-to-better results if you water by hand, so you can monitor moisture and waste less water, saving thousands of gallons of water and helping the environment greatly (including local water and sewer). But you'd lose the signal to your neighbors that you're wealthy enough to afford sprinklers, and thus few people do it.

Tyler would say, "well convenience is obviously a factor it's hard to see signal in this". Yeah duh. But don't pretend signal isn't a factor.

Everyone knows college degrees are borderline worthless. Only a tiny fraction of people use their degree for what it says on the paper anyway. Most people only need "a" degree to send a signal. Harvard grads only need "a" degree to send a signal.

But the Harvard signal says something other than "I room a bunch of stupid classes". The Harvard signal says you buy into the same bull as America's business class. It says you'll probably look the other way when a CEO orders coke and prostitutes.

That's what America's ruling class really cares about. Willingness to perpetuate their nonsense and pretend it still works.

Quick question: What are all the Ivy League economists who got everything wrong about the 2008 financial crisis doing today? Spoiler: Usually still the same thing they were doing before it.

I found an old Rain Bird in the garage, strapped it to a piece of trash wood. Bought a twenty-dollar timer at Ace. Gonna signal the neighbors good.

"saving thousands of gallons of water "

Eh, water in my area is around 0.7 cents per gallon. So, if you use and additional 25 gallons a day for 100 days, that's 2,500 gallons.

Which is $17.50 worth of water. How many people are going to spend an extra 15 minutes 4 days a week for an entire season(25 man hours) to save $17.50? Not many, and it's a poor use of their time.

Now some people enjoy water their lawn, and it's not about the money, it's just an activity they like. However, economically, it's not an effective use of your time.

If you hate spending four years at Harvard, you’re doing something very wrong.

"Keep also in mind that the restricted Harvard services are probably only for one year (or less)"

Does Mr Cowen know something the rest of us don't? Stock tip pls!!

Sorry, Tyler. You should read this before drawing conclusions about Harvard 2020-2021

Sorry, Tyler. You should read this before drawing conclusions about Harvard 2020-2021

Interesting. Given this I think it would be incredibly irresponsible for universities to go online-only and perhaps more of them will offer optional or partial in-person classes.

I think they’ll be stuck in this sort of arrangement for more than a year. The mortality rate is dropping. Looks like antibodies developed from mild cases only last weeks. So the vaccines will have a higher burden to meet. There will likely have to be boosters, and the side effects might put people off. Never mind that the other SARS vaccine made things worse.

People assumed the heat would slow spread. Now they are assuming the vaccine will pan out. Maybe you get to a place with testing that you can go back to normal. I’d be willing to bet this is a three year thing.

Won't this accelerate the trend toward the celebrity lecturer? My godson starts Harvard Law School in the Fall, which will be online only as well. Missing the first year will be a drag on his class throughout their careers. First year is the foundation for what comes later, the foundation being critical reading and thinking skills, learned by being taught using the Socratic method. Real world Kingsfields are scarier than the fictional Kingsfield. I've watched elite college undergraduate courses that are available online, regular college classes that are filmed and podcast. What strikes me is the absence of student participation. Sure, the professors occasionally ask "are there any questions", his response to the student with the gall to ask serving to discourage that behavior. I've been told that the Univ. of Chicago is different, the core curriculum best taught through exchanges between professor and student. One doesn't attend such a class unprepared: not only will the unprepared student be humiliated, he will be resented by the other students for wasting their time. I ask: what percentage of college graduates have learned, or been taught, critical reading and thinking skills? An aside, this obsession with "signaling" is getting old as its range broadens, from the function of a college education to how the economy works. It's intellectually lazy and provides little or no insight. Expunge the word from this blog!

" Missing the first year will be a drag on his class throughout their careers. First year is the foundation for what comes later, the foundation being critical reading and thinking skills, learned by being taught using the Socratic method. Real world Kingsfields are scarier than the fictional Kingsfield."

I'm sure he'll be more than fine. He is under 20 in 2020 and will be only 40 in 2042, long after the legal profession will have radically changed due to improving A.I. Almost nobody in college today will have just one career.

The professional managerial class requires a means to reproduce itself, hence the elite college. What is most interesting is the way they have cooperated traditional science and scholarship, which used to rely on more straightforward patronage networks, to provide them with legitimacy.

We (on this blog) covered some papers on this which (IIRC) used data from a Carnegie Foundation cohort study. Male students who were admitted to fancier colleges but attended less fancy schools did just as well as those who attended the fancier schools. With female students, it was more nuanced--- the female students who went to the fancier schools were richer but had fewer kids.

So, the value wasn't even in the admissions department--- they just marked what was already there.

The cohorts studied are well into adulthood--- it's possible things have changed.

If there was a service that certified you directly, there would be a temptation to expand certification as it would disproportionately impact negatively on those with past certification.

What Harvard has is a self-imposed cost on certifying too many -- that is, actual costs associated with the Harvard experience. Moreover, that campus experience allows for self-monitoring -- for others to form an opinion as to whether Harvard is doing a good job certifying and that opinion matters because these people have skin in the game when it comes to hiring Harvard grads. This is why legacy admits are potentially so problematic for that signalling.

What is Harvard good for? It’s good for its graduates, by granting entry to a network that can enrich you. You can work “I went to Harvard” into every conversation, as soon as possible. It will impress some employers.

OTOH, you will be on one of top rungs of an intellectual monoculture- it’s hard to see how this will develop independent thinkers. And the announcement that classes will be on line tells you that the administration is a bunch of pussies.

It’s cheaper to get a few tattoos if you want to join a group, but it doesn’t have the same status.

More than 50 years ago, in his letters to Nixon, Daniel Moynihan expressed his concerns about elite education:
“To a degree that no one could have anticipated even three or four years ago, the educated elite of the American middle class have come to detest their society, and their detestation is rapidly diffusing to youth in general. The effects of this profound movement of opinion will be with us for generations. . .
“What we are facing is the onset of nihilism in the United States…. The three most important points are that nihilists are almost entirely drawn from the educated, even upper classes. They are extremely idealistic, seeing themselves as agents of the purest charity. They are violent in the most extreme ways. . . Nihilist movements typically have led to political regimes of the most oppressive and reactionary qualities. . .
“I know there is an authoritarian Left in this country, and I fear it.
“It would be difficult to overestimate the degree to which young well-educated blacks detest white America.
“In the best universities the best men are increasingly appalled by the authoritarian tendencies of the left. The inadequacies of traditional liberalism are equally unmistakable, while, not least important, the credulity, even the vulgarity of the supposed intellectual and social elite of the country has led increasing numbers of men and women of no especial political persuasion to realize that something is wrong somewhere.
“The elite intelligentsia of the country are turning against the country—in science, in politics, in the fundaments of patriotism. How can we not pay for this?
“Are we then witnessing the ultimate, destructive working out of the telos of liberal thought?

Perhaps we should review and update Moynihan's concerns rather than waste time on presential v. online education.

What nihilist movements led to an oppressive government? When I think of an oppressive government I’d think something like Nazism or communism—which were pretty much the opposite of nihilistic, as they both had very developed ideas about what the world should look like and were willing to forcibly impose those ideas on others. A liberal democracy that allows many people to live according to their different personal ideas of the good is far more nihilistic than Nazis or communists were.

When someone accuses his opponents who in fact have a very developed (if repugnant) ideology of being nihilistic, it is a tip off that they just haven’t tried to understand his opponents’ values and so wrongly thinks his opponents have no values at all.

"When I think of an oppressive government I’d think something like Nazism or communism—which were pretty much the opposite of nihilistic, as they both had very developed ideas about what the world should look like and were willing to forcibly impose those ideas on others."

Did you miss the whole Green New Deal? That practically defines "very developed ideas about what the world should look like and were willing to forcibly impose those ideas on others", even to the extent that the principal author admitted it was mainly about forcing social change, rather than energy.

We may disagree with the GND but it is not nihilistic. In fact, bringing nihilism into a debate as some kind of intellectual slur is a marker that the speaker may be out of touch and to discount them accordingly. Even the most hideous ideologies as Zaua mentioned aren't nihilistic. It is a weak rhetorical straw man.

Maybe he means that the governments attacked by nihilist opposition tend to become more oppressive in reaction. Tsarist Russia at the end of the 19th century comes to mind.

Q "What nihilist movements led to an oppressive government?"
A. khmer rouge

It may not be signalling, but it's a rip-off.

Maybe it's my bias showing, but I object to athletes being lumped in with legacy kids and children of employees. Having known quite a few, athletes at an Ivy league usually means someone with excellent academic credentials who managed to pull that off while spending 20+ hours a week playing varsity sports.

Parental bragging is part of it. It's easier to work, my daughter/son is at Harvard, than, my son was accepted into Harvard, or, is Harvard quality, into a conversation.

Is military enlistment a certification? Why did the military say awhile back they were not going to admit recovered sars-cov-2 patients as new recruits? Already a large majority of the age-relevant population can not meet the minimum physical requirements. Is being enlisted a certification of excellent health? (Also, a probably reliable future income stream for four or so years, and a relatively high future potential mate value?)

Not a very useful one. If you enlist and then receive a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge or a disability discharge, the bad termination outweighs the positives of certification. And, physical capacity can be approximated pretty well by visual inspection. Completing a military enlistment with an honorable discharge, on the other hand, does certify a certain level of discipline and functionality and bureaucratic competence and conformity, in addition to anything that the enlisting in the first place certifies (high school graduation and lack of a serious criminal record and lack of serious hidden health issues).

" Why did the military say awhile back they were not going to admit recovered sars-cov-2 patients as new recruits? "

That's for a period of 28 days.

"If an applicant fails screening, according to the memo, they won’t be tested, but they can return in 14 days if they’re symptom-free. Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 will have to wait until 28 days after diagnosis to report to MEPS."

The reason someone chooses a signaling option matters. The GED despite having higher academic standards than required to get an ordinary high school diploma is still a negative relative to an ordinary high school diploma, because most people get it because they had behavioral problems such as incarceration that prevented them from getting an ordinary high school diploma. But, having received an online education, in part, when everybody is receiving an online education due to a pandemic, does not have negative stigma, much as dropping out of college doesn't have stigma when a large scale military draft during a major war is in force.

Certification is multidimensional. Potential employers and graduate schools have access to your grades, extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation. Most top-tier employers and graduate schools will have several Harvard applicants for a single position: selecting between them hinges on these additional "certification" aspects.

I suspect that an "O-Ring" theory of the university might have something to offer..... But that's all I've got at this point.

How can you tell someone's been to Harvard?

They tell you in the first 5 minutes of meeting them.

Or they're wearing something from the college bookstore and have the school sticker on the back of the Lexus

q."how can you tell someone's been to harvard?"
a. they threaten to stab you

You'll know when they exit from their Gulfstream jets. You know who's jealous of them? The ones who recycle the same old lame jokes.

Send me a pic of your Gulfstream, bigshot.

J. Epstein had a plane like that.

Fine. There are a lot of unique things about Harvard. It definitely has cachet. It definitely has connections.

My only comment would be that we should be careful about reasoning from an extreme.

The median experience, and the median value, of higher education are quite different from that at Harvard.

And there seems to be a fetish about minutely examining every emanation and penumbra about Harvard rather than studying the wider experience and effects of normal median people attending more normal median colleges and universities

That's because (almost) every other college in America wants to be Harvard-lite. They will follow it's lead in admissions, in speech codes, in when to cancel the conference BB tournament.

This list of schools that don't try to follow is short and shrinking: CalTech, Chicago, Hillsdale, St John's, Dallas and some tiny places. Did I miss any?

Why Akron and St Olaf's and Baylor and Notre Dame want to be mini-Harvards eludes me.

>The signaling theory, taken quite literally, is that education is a very difficult set of hurdles to surmount, and if you can get through Harvard you must be really really smart and hard-working.

Not necessarily. The signaling theory could also be that you were "really really smart and hard-working" enough to get into Harvard.

>Harvard certifies you

As being able to do what, exactly?

>If you are certified by Harvard, but live on a desert island, or carry a contagious disease, that certification is worth much less.

Undoubtedly. But couldn't they reproduce the signaling part for 1/1000 the cost of 4 years of “'social connections/dating' services" and sell it 1/100 the cost?? My opinion is an unqualified "yes, they could."

You might respond, so why don't they? It would irritate the alumni, possibly enough that they won't continue leave multi-million (or even billion) dollar legacies and/or pay multiples of full-tuition to buy their scions a spot in future classes. And that's where the real profit actually is, not in the tuition flow.

"But not exactly. The signaling theory, taken quite literally, is that education is a very difficult set of hurdles to surmount, and if you can get through Harvard you must be really really smart and hard-working."

That is not at all the typical explanation given by Bryan Caplan. The hurdles here are not, strictly speaking, intellectual, but rather social or perhaps even moral. There is the hurdle of getting in, which certainly requires higher intelligence than most people. But then what the act of completing your studies really signals is *conformity*. That is what employers like to see. They don't just care that you're smart enough to get into Harvard. They also want some assurance that you're not likely to quit your job on the first day.

When you graduate Prestigious Name Brand U you also are reaping the benefit of previous graduates who have performed well for your prospective employer. So there's often a pipeline in place at these companies and a halo effect when you apply and begin work there.

My prospects were enhanced not just by a brand name -- which Mizzou was for journalism -- but by the job performance of specific grads over the previous few years. If these hirees had come in and screwed up, some doors might have shut for me.

+1 came here to make this exact comment. The reason a "certification" company doing just the Harvard admissions process wouldn't work is because by definition only non-conformists would use it at the start, which would provide a *negative* signal to prospective employers. There is both a nice filter effect on acceptance for general intellectual capability, and a nice signal effect for "sticking it through" and "conformity" by actually finishing your degree and not for example dropping out in the last month of your degree. Sure there may be some human capital or networking opportunities embedded in the education provided, but that's maybe 10-20% of the sticker price.

It seems like strong evidence people pay for the label. The 50k times 4 is the cost of proving you were accepted in the first place. That is the signal purchasers care about. So Tyler seems wrong here.

Guys don't go to Harvard to date the girls there. They go there to improve their dating prospects after they graduate.

Guys that go to Harvard date girls from BU

Harvard is a country club, where you can get an education, but only if you want to (you can major in government.. as in not bother with the education part if you want). All the social parts to Harvard as listed in the post are pure reasons why it's sometimes very important that one gets into the this or that particular country club, the golf course being nicer isn't the reason.

Start earlier... eugenics
It's really a brave new world
Have you seen the movie ?
---* Gattaca *---

Genetics determines your social status
Search on talks (youtube) the ideas of researcher
Gregory Clark, economics professor at UC-Davis

Some ideas for study:

1: Do an experiment sending out a resume with Version A listing the college as a state school and Version B listing the same state school, but adding "Accepted at Harvard",

2: Study people who were accepted at Harvard, but did not attend. Compare them in 10 years to those who did attend.

What does tuition price have to do with anything at Harvard?

My impression was that those who attend to so at Harvard’s pleasure, and regard it as a bargain if they are among the chosen.

The signaling theory, taken quite literally, is that education is a very difficult set of hurdles to surmount, and if you can get through Harvard you must be really really smart and hard-working.

Nope. The signal is getting *into* Harvard, not getting through (which isn't all that tough if you pick the appropriate major). And getting in doesn't necessarily even signal 'really really smart and hard-working'. It might also signal legacy, celebrity/politician/donor's kid, athlete, faculty kid, or affirmative action admit. But all of those are useful signals for prospective employers too (for example kids of donors/celebrities/politicians are generally really well-connected).

Which is why online-only doesn't really affect Harvard's signal. Prospective employers only want to know that Harvard's admission committee is still on the job and not relaxing its standards. As long as that's the case, then all's right with the world and the employers who want Harvard grads don't particularly care what they do during those undergrad years.

There actually is a difference in the education offered at a school like Harvard as opposed to a school like U Mass Amherst. Harvard students, and students who get into selective schools like that, are given long, serious reading lists and expected to do demanding work with critical reading and analysis. They are expected to fill in gaps in their own knowledge with supplemental reading. Since they are a selected group, they find it relatively easy to get decent grades since they are already used to doing that kind of reading, writing and reckoning.

At schools like U Mass Amherst, courses rarely demand anywhere that level of reading or work. There probably are some students at U Mass A who could handle the work, but will rarely find themselves taxed with anything like it. The teachers know what the students can do and the courses are designed so that the students can get through them.

There's a whole continuum of colleges offering different levels of what seems to be the same education. It is not strictly linear, but the harder to get into schools generally demand more than the easy to get into schools. There is a similar continuum in STEM oriented schools.

The Harvard signal is not just that one got into Harvard, but that one can do a certain level of work. It's about being able to digest a lot of material, fill in the gaps, come up with questions, develop insights and express oneself clearly. Harvard has legacy and purchased admits, but the signal is based on the actual education. The signal isn't as clear as it could be, but there are solid reasons you might want to hire a Harvard graduate as opposed to a U Mass Amherst graduate and, importantly, vice versa.

There is already evidence that a remote Harvard education will be worth a lot more than a remote U Mass Amherst education. Look at the students who have actually managed to complete their spring 2020 term despite a totally new way of teaching. They are the brighter, more motivated kids.

“The principle value of holding a Harvard degree is never again having to be being impressed by a Harvard degree”

The undergraduate college is not primarily scholarly but rather social, athletic and competitive activities dominate. The longterm value of the residential college is with whom you have unsafe exchanges of bodily fluids. This is very problematic with COVID-19 as heavy breathing joins those unsafe exchanges. Similarly COVID impacts athletic and intramural competition. The scholarly could be conducted but that is not the primary reason for attending college for most students.

As for universities: "The graduate schools have been invaded, therefore, during the comparatively short period of their existence by an army of degree-hunters who desired the degree of Doctor of Philosophy as a preliminary to obtaining positions as teachers." rather than scholarly interests.

This raises a good question but the conclusion makes a suspect assumption.

Harvard is "pretty easy to get through with OK enough grades" for people who are accepted. Would it also be easy enough for all the students the school rejects? Would it be easy enough for the average big 10 student?

"What [sic] isn’t there a service that just certifies you directly? Surely you could run a clone of the Harvard admissions department pretty cheaply."

I think Tyler needs to read his colleague Bryan Caplan's book The Case Against Education to learn why.

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