Correlation vs causation II

The Economist published their first ranking of colleges in the US. It measures the difference between one’s financial’s stand 10 years after graduation with one’s predicted financial stand, given one’s characteristics before entering college.

The aim is to disentangle correlation and causation in student outcomes. Typically, more intelligent, hard-working and privileged students attend better schools, and have higher earnings. Yet their earnings are likely to be caused by the fact that they are smart, hard-working people, not necessarily because their university greatly improved their prospects. The Economist’s ranking focuses exclusively on returns gained by attending a given college.

Washington and Lee, Babson College, Vilanova University and Harvard top the ranking, Yale comes close to the bottom of the table.

What I liked the most about the article is how aware its authors are of the limitations of their findings. A good chunk of the article describes the data and methodology used, and an even bigger chunk describes the problems with their data and methodology.

In any case, the ranking seems great for what it is. “For students who want to know which colleges are likely to boost their future salaries by the greatest amount, given their qualifications and preferences regarding career and location, we hope these rankings prove helpful. They should not be used for any other purpose.” I would be curious to see this analysis with UK data, yet for now such data is not available.

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Correlation vs causation II

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