DINS Faculty Member, Graduate Student Publish Paper in PLOS One

March 15, 2023

Congratulations to Morgan Frank (assistant professor, Department of Informatics and Networked Systems), SCI graduate student Hung Chau, Sarah H. Bana, and Baptiste Bouvier on their paper “Connecting Higher Education to Workplace Activities and Earnings” in the PLOS One journal.  

This project seeks to answer three questions: how do employers make hiring decisions among job candidates with different college majors; is the wage premium for Ivy League graduates a result of marketing or actually a difference in graduates’ ability; and how does education shape one’s career and earnings.  

“Answering these questions requires us to investigate the skill taught during college education. Increasingly, labor economics research focuses on workers’ skills to understand their career mobility, susceptibility to automation, and their ability to work-from-home,” Frank said about this research. 

Employers use applicants’ college majors as a proxy for their underlying skillset (e.g., an English major might be less prepared than a computer science major for a software engineering job). However, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides skill profiles for U.S. occupations, no similar skill data is available to describe college majors and/or institutions for higher education. 

Ultimately, this project fills that gap. Through a partnership with the Open Syllabus Project, Frank and collaborators obtained a data set of millions of university course syllabi from over 1,000 different US institutions. They used natural language processing (NLP) to detect the workplace activities used in BLS occupation profiles from the course descriptions thus producing the first ever large-scale skill profile for college majors, individual universities, and even for specific major-university pairs. With graduate earnings data from the U.S. Department of Education, this team demonstrates that graduates’ taught skills significantly improve our ability to predict differences in graduate earnings compared to knowing only their college major and alma mater. 

This analysis provides a demonstration of the value of knowing taught skills during college to understand differences in college graduate earnings. Future work will build on this effort to better understand how specific learning outcomes contribute to wages, how educational institutions might be more like top-performing institutions, and how educational foundations contribute to successful careers. 

Read their paper here.