Timely Topic: Economics Professor Addresses Higher Education Issues During Pandemic



Dr. Rodney Andrews, associate professor of economics in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences and research director of the Texas Schools Project at The University of Texas at Dallas, is an expert on the economics of education and, more specifically, the topics of college paths, returns on investment and how that relates to the quality of an institution, as well as pre-K effects on student achievement.

He currently is investigating the effect of postsecondary programs and policies that target students from underrepresented groups and geographic areas on access, academic performance and labor-market outcomes.

Andrews recently addressed questions about several current topics in higher education and shared his insights from his research.

Rodney Andrews sitting in a chairDr. Rodney Andrews

Q: An area of interest you have is the consequences of student choices, such as college major and courses. How do these choices affect academic performance, completion and labor-market outcomes?

A: In our paper titled “The Returns to College Major Choice: Mean Effects, Career Trajectories, and Earnings Volatility,” I and my co-authors identified several interesting patterns associated with choice of major and college type. Using a sample of all graduates from public high schools in the state of Texas from 1996 to 2002, in conjunction with data from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission, we were able to perform a comparison of majors and investigate how they contribute to differences in earnings. We grouped majors into 10 categories for both two-year and four-year institutions: agriculture, communications, information technology (IT), vocational, engineering and architecture, biology and health, physical sciences and math, social sciences (excluding economics), business and economics, and liberal arts.

We found that students who major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) earn more than liberal arts majors across both two- and four-year sectors. Growth rates are much steeper for engineering and architecture, business and economics, and IT graduates from four-year institutions, while growth rates are much smaller for those who graduate from two-year institutions, although vocational, and engineering and agriculture experience higher-than-typical growth rates.

In another paper titled “Risky Business? The Effect of Majoring in Business on Earnings and Educational Attainment,” I and my co-authors use the regression discontinuity design to assess the effect of majoring in business on long-term outcomes. We found that, overall, a majority of marginal students who major in business would have majored in STEM fields otherwise, and while there is no significant impact on earnings overall due to imprecision, we found large and statistically significant positive effects for women who majored in business.

Q: What types of programs/resources are helpful in promoting success among under-represented, first-year college students?

A: Students, particularly socioeconomically disadvantaged students, face multiple barriers: financial, academic, social and informational. These barriers are not independent and interact in ways that make it difficult for students to succeed. Well-designed programs recognize these issues and provide accessible resources without any stigma attached. The best programs are proactive rather reactive. Transparent and well-administered programs that are well advertised are a first step toward helping students maximize their potential.

Q: Many families are struggling with decisions surrounding enrolling their children in college amidst the pandemic. What are your thoughts on whether graduating high school seniors should take a gap year or if college students should press pause on their education?

A: I believe educators and students have done an admirable job during a very difficult time. We have made the best of difficult circumstances, but it is far from what students expect when they think of college. College offers students a package of academic and social experiences. Prior to the pandemic, students had the opportunity to attend classes in person, meet with professors and academic advisors, and attend university events. College is where you make lifelong friends; join clubs, sororities/fraternities and service organizations; and participate in other social activities. College is a structured environment that allows for unanticipated but meaningful interactions that are influential, like sitting next to an interesting person in class or meeting someone at an event. I think parents and students consider these things when they select a college. College is costly in both time and money. It is reasonable to expect that some students will pause and wait a year so that they can reap the full benefit of what college has to offer.

Q: The state of Texas has decided that the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test will be administered in the 2020-2021 school year even as the pandemic continues. However, the A-F ratings assigned to schools every year based on the test results will be paused. What are the pros and cons of this?

A: The pandemic has made learning difficult. It has been particularly hard on socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with learning disabilities. Schools provide a number of supports that are difficult for families to reproduce. Testing provides a means of identifying deficits and allows schools to provide additional resources and instruction where it can be most effective. A useful compromise is to have some form of testing so that learning deficits can be accurately identified but without the consequences that normally accompany less-than-stellar performance on these tests. The pandemic has produced emotional, psychological, physical and financial distress. These things must be taken into consideration as we consider the performance of students and the schools and families that educate those students.

–Brittany Magelssen

Andrews Appointed Fellow, Vibhooti Shukla Professorship of Economics

Dr. Rodney Andrews, associate professor of economics in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at UT Dallas, has been appointed Fellow, Vibhooti Shukla Professorship of Economics.

The professorship was established by Satchit Srinivasan in memory of his wife, a political economy professor who taught at UT Dallas from 1987 to 1992. The endowment is intended to advance the research of an outstanding scholar in the fields of economics and/or political economy.

“I am both honored and grateful to be appointed Fellow, Vibhooti Shukla Professor of Economics and Political Economy,” Andrews said. “My colleagues and I focus on relevant educational issues and work to make our results broadly available. This funding serves to support the infrastructure needed to produce that work. Funding also allows us to support and mentor graduate students, who assist with our research and simultaneously develop both their own skills and research agendas.”

Andrews has investigated a range of topics, including health policy, public finance and labor economics. His recent focus is on the economics of education and primarily deals with issues of access and success in higher education.

“I am interested in the efficacy of policies that make the benefits of higher education broadly available,” he said. “Recently, I have started to investigate the consequences of the choices students make while in college – for example, their majors and the courses they take. With the results of my research, students will hopefully make more informed choices.”

Andrews is research director of the Texas Schools Project, which supports and conducts academic research to improve academic achievement and teacher effectiveness, to increase transitions to and success in postsecondary education, and to improve labor market outcomes of students in Texas and the nation. Andrews previously served as director from 2011 to 2015.

Since 2010, Andrews has been awarded 21 grants totaling $1.9 million as a principal investigator at UT Dallas. His scholarly work has been supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (now Arnold Ventures), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Greater Texas Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Widely recognized in his field, Andrews currently serves as a board member of the Association for Education Finance and Policy and is a faculty research fellow at the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research.

Note to journalists: Dr. Rodney Andrews is available for news media interviews. Contact Brittany Magelssen, 972-883-4357, brittany.hoover@utdallas.edu.

Tags: , ,