If you’re obsessed with horse racing – which I might be, but I’m not admitting it – you eventually discover that many (if not all) statistics are meaningless. They may be interesting, but they’re not very helpful.
Much of what passes for explanatory math turns out to be self-fulfilling prophecy. A stallion, for example, may be regularly at the top of the progeny earnings list but he’s getting to mate with the best and the most mares because he’s been at the top of the earnings list.
I’ve always thought of colleges much the same way. I went to what is supposed to be a pretty good school – and I’m sure it is – but since I skipped half my classes and barely knew what was going on, I’m not sure the school was responsible for my success (such as it is).
Did the college produce a lot of successful graduates or did the quality of the students, attracted by the school’s reputation, create the image of the school by succeeding?
My guess is that the same students would have done well anywhere.
I’m bringing this up because The New York Times last week ran a piece explaining how a study conducted by a loan company called SoFi ranked law schools according to return on investment.
Before I get into this odd statistical concept, I’m giving you a link to the Times piece because of my love and appreciation for oddly random and apparently meaningless photos accompanying news stories.
What we have here, to illustrate a story about the value of law school, is a photo of some stairs and four young people, apparently wondering why they’re being photographed, walking past.
They may be law students. They may be vagrants. And who knows where those steps lead?
That may or may not be a law school hidden away behind some trees.
It’s a classic.
But back to the topic at hand.
It seems that the SoFi study has concluded that although some big-name law schools churned out graduates that earned the most money, some less ritzy middle-class schools provided a better “return on education” measured by a ratio of salary to student debt.
SoFi claims it came up with this discovery by analyzing 60,000 student refinancing applications that included verified income and debt figures.
The Times uncritically reported this and then the ABA Journal uncritically quoted the Times article.
Need I point out all the problems with this?
Oh, all right, if you insist.
First off, the studied group is a tad incomplete. It doesn’t include students (or their parents) who paid all or part of their way through college. It doesn’t include students who didn’t refinance with SoFi or refinance at all. It doesn’t include students who got scholarships.
And it doesn’t use the actual cost of the colleges involved as opposed to how much debt some students racked up.
Throw all of those things in and the results are probably a good deal different.
And what’s the point of this study, if you take it seriously, anyway?
Yeah, the kids at the fancy schools may have bigger bills, but they’ll have those high salaries for years after the loans are paid off.
Earning more money still seems the best way to go in the long run.
There’s also a serious “well, duh!” aspect to the list of low-class schools that do the worst in the report. Are we supposed to be shocked that schools that almost certainly have lower admission standards and attract students who probably had to borrow more produce lawyers who get a lousy “return on education?”
Your progeny earnings are going to go up if you get the best mares — er, students. It’s self-fulfilling.
Possibly interesting, but not very helpful.
Alternative Fact: Maybe it’s time to stop all the hand-wringing over the new president’s refusal to turn over his tax returns.
It’s entirely possible there are no foreign entanglements or shady dealings whatsoever in those documents.
My theory is that the returns show that Donald Trump is practically broke and he’s way too vain to let us find out.
Think about it. It makes as much sense as anything else.
Remember, you heard this theory here first.