Saturday, August 20, 2011

Should professional schools penalize future part-time workers?

One survey of Yale alumni found that 90 percent of the male alumni in their 40s were still working, but only 56 percent of the female. A survey of Harvard Business School alumni found that 31 percent of the women who had graduated between 10 and 20 years earlier were no longer working at all, and another 31 percent were working part time. ...

But it is at this point that policy questions arise. Even at the current very high tuition rates, there is excess demand for places at the elite colleges and professional schools, as shown by the high ratio of applications to acceptances at those schools. ...

Suppose for simplicity that in an entering class at an elite law school of 100 students, split evenly among men and women, 45 of the men but only 30 of the women will have full-time careers in law. Then 5 of the men and 20 of the women will be taking places that would otherwise be occupied by men (and a few women) who would have more productive careers, assuming realistically that the difference in ability between those admitted and those just below the cut off for admission is small. While well-educated mothers contribute more to the human capital of their offspring than mothers who are not well educated, it is doubtful that a woman who graduates from Harvard College and goes on to get a law degree from Yale will be a better mother than one who stopped after graduating from Harvard. ...

[The] fact that a significant percentage of places in the best professional schools are being occupied by individuals who are not going to obtain the maximum possible value from such an education is troubling from an overall economic standpoint. ...

It would be unlawful discrimination to refuse admission to these schools to all women, for many women will have full working careers and some men will not. ...  A better idea, though counterintuitive, might be to raise tuition to all students but couple the raise with a program of rebates for graduates who work full time. For example, they might be rebated 1 percent of their tuition for each year they worked full time. ...

The real significance of the plan would be the higher tuition, which would discourage applicants who were not planning to have full working careers (including applicants of advanced age and professional graduate students). This would open up places to applicants who will use their professional education more productively; they are the more deserving applicants. Although women continue to complain about discrimination, sometimes quite justly, the gender-neutral policies that govern admission to the elite professional schools illustrate discrimination in favor of women. Were admission to such schools based on a prediction of the social value of the education offered, fewer women would be admitted.
--Richard Posner, Becker-Posner blog, on an educational policy question raised by low female labor force participation