Cowen/Tabarrok: Is Education Signaling or Skill Building?
What’s the point of education? Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you -- and your degree -- send
What’s the point of education?
Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you -- and your degree -- send out to the world? Is education really about building skills, or does it serve only to transmit intangible traits, like your level of talent or your persistence?
These are the questions we’ll be tackling in this new Econ Duel debate from Marginal Revolution University.
And since we believe that nothing beats a good friend-vs-friend duel, we’ve picked two friends, whom you’re probably familiar with. For this debate on education as signaling vs. skill building, we’ve got Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, ready to go head-to-head.
You’ll see them argue about nearly everything—from peacocks, to private markets, to street sweepers, to Scandinavian education laws, and even the real value of Harvard University. In the end, you’ll see them duke things out, in a quest to determine education’s effect on our lives and well-being.
The video also asks:
- Why do students tend to rejoice when their professor cancels class?
- When we’re talking education, what really counts? Is it the soft skills, or the hard facts?
- If evolution still can’t sort out good vs. bad, can we really expect the market to do any better?
- Can the things you learn today still matter 20 years down the line?
- Why do peacocks still sport huge, colorful tails, despite the fact that evolution should’ve come up with a better signaling device by now?
Once you reach the end of the video, we have one specific request. It’s hugely important.
Ask yourself: “Is education only about signaling, or is it really about skill building?”
Think it through and then let us know by voting at the end of the video!
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2 comments & 1 question. Thanks, I've been thinking about this so much, as I work towards a second career: how much can I do independently (education) without official credentials (signal) because credentials are crazy expensive. Prof Tabarrok, would you consider a graduate student (not me) who independently studied economics, mathematics & business or would you require a student with a diploma in economics? Also, I would like to dispute your claim about students who are happy with less education - when students perceive the applicability of what they learn, they are upset about receiving less - I teach anatomy & physiology to pre-nursing students. The ones who are actually going to get into their program and succeed are the ones who are disappointed with canceled classes.