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Worker Signals among New College Graduates: The Role of Selectivity and GPA

Recent studies have found a large earnings premium to attending a more selective college, but the mechanisms underlying this premium have received little attention and remain unclear. In order to shed light on this question, I develop a multidimensional signaling model relying on college grades and selectivity that rationalizes students’ choices of effort and firms’ wage-setting behavior. The model is then used to produce predictions of how the interaction of the signals should be related to wages, namely that the return on college GPA should fall the more selective the institution attended. Using five data sets that span the early 1960s through the late 2000s, I show that the data support the predictions of the signaling model, with support growing stronger over time as college sorting by ability has increased. The findings imply that return to college selectivity depends on GPA, something previously not recognized in the literature, and they can rationalize why employers learn more quickly about college graduates’ productivity than less educated workers’.

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Paper provided by W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in its series Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles with number 13-190.

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Date of creation: Jan 2013
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Handle: RePEc:upj:weupjo:13-190
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  1. Stacy Berg Dale & Alan B. Krueger, 1999. "Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: An Application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables," NBER Working Papers 7322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," NBER Working Papers 12006, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Patrick J. Bayer & Peter Arcidiacono & Aurel Hizmo, 2010. "Beyond Signaling and Human Capital: Education and the Revelation of Ability," Working Papers 10-51, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  4. Malamud, Ofer & Wozniak, Abigail, 2008. "The Impact of College Graduation on Geographic Mobility: Identifying Education Using Multiple Components of Vietnam Draft Risk," IZA Discussion Papers 3432, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  5. Kevin Lang & Erez Siniver, 2011. "Why Is an Elite Undergraduate Education Valuable? Evidence from Israel," NBER Working Papers 16730, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. James Heckman & Edward Vytlacil, 2000. "Identifying the Role of Cognitive Ability in Explaining the Level of and Change in the Return to Schooling," NBER Working Papers 7820, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Babcock, Phillip & Marks, Mindy, 2010. "The Falling Time Cost of College: Evidence from Half a Century of Time Use Data," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt7rc9d7vz, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  8. Kelly Bedard, 2001. "Human Capital versus Signaling Models: University Access and High School Dropouts," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(4), pages 749-775, August.
  9. Sallee James M & Resch Alexandra M & Courant Paul N, 2008. "On the Optimal Allocation of Students and Resources in a System of Higher Education," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-26, June.
  10. Oreopoulos, Philip & Heisz, Andrew, 2006. "The Importance of Signalling in Job Placement and Promotion," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2006236e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
  11. Rothschild, Michael & White, Lawrence J, 1995. "The Analytics of the Pricing of Higher Education and Other Services in Which the Customers Are Inputs," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 573-86, June.
  12. Bound, John & Brown, Charles & Mathiowetz, Nancy, 2001. "Measurement error in survey data," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 59, pages 3705-3843 Elsevier.
  13. John Bound & Brad Hershbein & Bridget Terry Long, 2009. "Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(4), pages 119-46, Fall.
  14. Kahn, Lisa B., 2010. "The long-term labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 303-316, April.
  15. Fabian Lange, 2007. "The Speed of Employer Learning," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 1-35.
  16. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2009. "The Changing Selectivity of American Colleges," NBER Working Papers 15446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Patrick J. Bayer & Peter Arcidiacono & Aurel Hizmo, 2010. "Web Appendix: Beyond Signaling and Human Capital: Education and the Revelation of Ability," Working Papers 10-52, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  18. Gautam Bose & Kevin Lang, 2011. "A Theory of Monitoring and Internal Labor Markets," Discussion Papers 2012-06, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales.
  19. Lange, Fabian & Topel, Robert, 2006. "The Social Value of Education and Human Capital," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
  20. Dan A. Black & Jeffrey A. Smith, 2006. "Estimating the Returns to College Quality with Multiple Proxies for Quality," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 701-728, July.
  21. Murnane, Richard J & Willett, John B & Levy, Frank, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 77(2), pages 251-66, May.
  22. George Psacharopoulos, 1974. "College Quality as a Screening Device?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 9(4), pages 556-558.
  23. Dennis J. Aigner & Glen G. Cain, 1977. "Statistical theories of discrimination in labor markets," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 30(2), pages 175-187, January.
  24. Spence, A Michael, 1973. "Job Market Signaling," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 87(3), pages 355-74, August.
  25. Dominic J. Brewer & Eric Eide & Ronald G. Ehrenberg, 1996. "Does It Pay To Attend An Elite Private College? Cross Cohort Evidence on the Effects of College Quality on Earnings," NBER Working Papers 5613, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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