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Rate My Professor as Evidence for Education Signaling

Summary:
Often, when I get curious about an economist I hear about or who asks me to friend him (I’ll use “him” to stand for “him/her”) on Facebook, I do a Google search and his ratings on “Rate My Professor” show up. So I often go to the ratings to see what students say. I know I’m getting a biased sample for which the particular biases are unknown but, still, it’s some information. After having done this for over 5 years, I’ve realized something that I should’ve realized much sooner. The raters virtually never discuss anything about what they’ve learned. The typical comment is about what you need to do to get an A or a B: things like go to class, pay close attention, do the readings, don’t do the readings but take good notes, do the homework, etc. What’s missing is

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Rate My Professor as Evidence for Education Signaling

Often, when I get curious about an economist I hear about or who asks me to friend him (I’ll use “him” to stand for “him/her”) on Facebook, I do a Google search and his ratings on “Rate My Professor” show up. So I often go to the ratings to see what students say. I know I’m getting a biased sample for which the particular biases are unknown but, still, it’s some information.

After having done this for over 5 years, I’ve realized something that I should’ve realized much sooner. The raters virtually never discuss anything about what they’ve learned. The typical comment is about what you need to do to get an A or a B: things like go to class, pay close attention, do the readings, don’t do the readings but take good notes, do the homework, etc. What’s missing is anything like: I learned a lot, this class changed my way of thinking, I particularly liked how he treated subject X, etc.

As I said, this is a biased sample. Maybe the only people who go to rate a professor are people who want to give other students tips about how to get grades. But even if that’s what’s going on, it’s telling. And it’s medium to strong evidence for Bryan Caplan’s thesis that higher education is 80 percent about signaling.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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