(Header: Solemne Graduación 2016 en la UnACh, Photo credit: La Universidad Adventista de Chile)

Loreto was awarded a GOV/LAB seed grant in 2016 to conduct research in Chile on whether the benefits of higher education live up to expectations, and on the political-behavior consequences of when they don’t. What happens when graduates — who invested a great deal of time and money — realize that the labor market does not value their degree as expected? Read the full project description here.

Initial results are from an online survey administered to a sample of 14,230 students and recent graduates from higher education institutions around the time of graduation (starting in November 2016). Respondents were contacted through a collaboration with 49 Chilean higher education institutions, which together enroll 72% of students nationwide. The survey included a module on labor expectations, which are compared to actual labor results for past graduates with the same degree from the same institution. Data on labor results are from the Chilean Ministry of Education. Below are some preliminary results and highlights from the survey.

Great expectations. On average, survey respondents overestimate future earnings by 24% (around US $340 a month or more than $4000 per year) compared to past graduates’ actual earnings four years after graduation. There is great variation, however, in this estimated gap between expectations and past graduates’ outcomes. For example, 10% of students and recent graduates expect their monthly income to be at least US $1,426 above the average income of past graduates from their same program, implying an overestimation of 85%. Although these individuals may in fact end up earning more than past graduates, it is likely that at least some of their expectations will not be met.

Differences in expectations: gender and high school type. Results from the survey also show that men have higher expectations than women. Furthermore, students that went to private high schools, which generally serve higher income families, have greater expectations than students that attended public or voucher high schools. Will these above average expectations by men and students who attended private high schools hold true? Will they actually earn more than their female and public or voucher-school peers? The answers to these questions and more will be explored after the second wave survey to be conducted in November 2017.

Expectations and political attitudes. The survey also included an experiment to examine whether the gap between expected and actual income has an impact on respondents’ political attitudes. To test this impact, half of respondents were randomly selected to receive information on average earnings of past graduates from their program. This experiment allows us to understand how students and recent graduates respond to changes in expectations when exposed to historical salary information. Preliminary results indicate that when made aware of large gaps between their expectations and past graduates’ outcomes, respondents change their political attitudes, mainly giving more importance to equality and the role of government. My dissertation research will dig deeper into the results of this experiment.

The experience of higher-education. Finally, the survey included a module on how respondents assess their higher education experience. To my knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the Chilean higher education system from the standpoint of students based on a large-sample survey. Detailed results from the evaluation will be published later this year in a Chilean academic journal.

The local partner for this research, Fundación por una Carrera received a detailed report on the evaluation of higher education, labor expectations, and the gap between expected and average income of past graduates. The report especially focuses on differences between students that study with governments grants, loans, and private funds. I hope this report will provide them with new insights on the broad consequences of their core mission: to expand higher education access for low-income people. From a more general standpoint, I expect this research to add to our knowledge on the relationship between higher education and politics: there are several studies on how higher education affects political participation and attitudes, but the gap between expected and actual income in this relation has not been studied so far.

Loreto Cox is a fourth year PhD candidate in the MIT Political Science Department. Her research in Chile is funded in part by the MIT GOV/LAB seed grant program. Loreto holds degrees in both sociology and economics, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. Before coming to MIT, she worked as a researcher in the Centro de Estudios Públicos think tank at Chile (2010 – 2011) and as an advisor of the Chilean Minister of Education, specializing in issues on higher education (2012 – 2013). Currently, Loreto is an associate researcher at Centro de Estudios Públicos. She can be contacted at l_cox@mit.edu.