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The Big Sort: College Reputation and Labor Market Outcomes

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  • W. Bentley MacLeod
  • Evan Riehl
  • Juan E. Saavedra
  • Miguel Urquiola

Abstract

We explore how college reputation affects the "big sort," the process by which students choose colleges and find their first jobs. We incorporate a simple definition of college reputation—graduates' mean admission scores—into a competitive labor market model. This generates a clear prediction: if employers use reputation to set wages, then the introduction of a new measure of individual skill will decrease the return to reputation. Administrative data and a natural experiment from the country of Colombia confirm this. Finally, we show that college reputation is positively correlated with graduates' earnings growth, suggesting that reputation matters beyond signaling individual skill.

Suggested Citation

  • W. Bentley MacLeod & Evan Riehl & Juan E. Saavedra & Miguel Urquiola, 2017. "The Big Sort: College Reputation and Labor Market Outcomes," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 223-261, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:9:y:2017:i:3:p:223-61
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.20160126
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • I26 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Returns to Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials

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