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Thursday, July 21, 2011

College Education and State Policymaking

A previous post dealt with educational attainment among state lawmakers. Do better-schooled legislators make for better policy? At the Philadelphia Inquirer, Professor Robert Maranto of the University of Arkansas suggests that the connection is dubious.

As the percentage of legislators with four-year (and higher) college degrees rises, so, too, does a state's relative budget deficit. The correlation between a state's budget gap and its legislature's college education is 0.25 - with zero being no correlation and 1 being a perfect correlation - which despite the small sample size (i.e., the 50 states) is statistically significant. The budget deficit correlates even more highly with the percentage of legislators with an advanced degree, at 0.29.

Meanwhile, Congress, which is more educated than any state legislature, also has a proportionately bigger budget deficit. And regular citizens, who are less educated, have relatively less debt on average.

Of course, correlation does not prove causation. Still, the numbers provide little reason to think that more college leads to more responsible policy-making.