Sarah Payne's paper, Equalization or Reproduction? “Some College” and the Social Function of Higher Education was recently published in the Sociology of Education journal.
What are the economic consequences of college noncompletion? Given escalating student debt, is “some college” still worth it? This article applies augmented inverse probability weighting to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to estimate the causal effect of college noncompletion on income and financial hardship. Although noncompletion yields higher income than never attending college, it also increases financial hardship among more-disadvantaged groups through the mechanism of student debt. However, noncompleters of most groups would have had greater income and experienced less financial hardship had they graduated. Such contradictions complicate equalization and reproduction theories of higher education because higher education appears to have both equalizing (in the case of completion) and reproductive (in the case of noncompletion) effects. I argue this ambiguity is substantively meaningful, suggesting future research should examine whether the production of ambiguity constitutes a key social function of higher education.