My Conversation with Byron Auguste

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is my introduction:

TYLER COWEN:  Today I am here…with Byron Auguste, who is president and co-founder of [email protected], a civic enterprise which aims to improve the US labor market. Byron served for two years in the White House as deputy assistant to the president for economic policy and deputy director to the National Economic Council. Until 2013, he was senior partner at McKinsey and worked there for many years. He has also been an economist at LMC International, Oxford University, and the African Development Bank.

He is author of a 1995 book called The Economics of International Payments Unions and Clearing Houses. He has a doctorate of philosophy and economics from Oxford University, an undergraduate econ degree from Yale, and has been a Marshall Scholar. Welcome.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: As you know, more and more top universities are moving away from requiring standardized testing for people applying. Is this good or bad from your point of view?

AUGUSTE: I think it’s really too early to tell because the question is —

COWEN: But you want alternative markers, not just what kind of family you came from, what kind of prep you had. If you’re just smart, why shouldn’t we let you standardize test?

AUGUSTE: I think alternative markers are key. This is actually a pretty complicated issue, and I’ve talked to university administrators and admissions people, and it’s interesting, the variety of different ways they’re trying to work on this.

But I will say this. If you think about something like the SAT, when it first started — I’m talking about in the 1930s essentially — it was an alternative route into a college. It started with the Ivies. It was started with James Conant and Harvard and the Ivies and the Seven Sisters and the rest, and then it gradually moved out.

The problem they were trying to solve back in the ’30s was that up until that point, the way you got into, say, Dartmouth is the headmaster of Choate would write to Dartmouth and say, “Here’s our 15 candidates for Dartmouth.” Dartmouth would mostly take them because Choate knew what Dartmouth wanted. Then you had the high school movement in the US, where between 1909 and 1939, you went from 9 percent of American teenagers going to high school to 79 percent going to high school.

Now, suddenly, you had high school students applying to college. They were at Dubuque Normal School in Iowa. How does Dartmouth know whether this person was . . . The people from Choate didn’t start taking the SATs, but the SAT — even though it was a pretty terrible test at the time, it was better than nothing. It was a way that someone who was out there — not in the normal feeder schools — could distinguish themselves.

I think that is a very valuable role to play. As you know, Tyler, the SAT does, to some extent, still play that role. But also, because now that everybody has had to use it, it also is something that can be gamed more — test prep and all the rest of it.

COWEN: But it tracks IQ pretty closely. And a lot of Asian schools way overemphasize standard testing, I would say, and they’ve risen to very high levels of quality very quickly. It just seems like a good thing to do.

Most of all we cover jobs, training/retraining, and education.  Interesting throughout.

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