Everybody who went to university remembers inspiring and motivated professors, but also really dull ones. A new IZA Discussion Paper by Michela Braga, Marco Paccagnella and Michele Pellizzari investigates whether these boring lectures were not only a waste of time, but also bad for the career. The authors estimate the impact of college teaching on students’ academic achievement and labor market outcomes using administrative data from Bocconi University (Italy) matched with Italian tax records. The researchers make use of the random allocation of students to teachers for certain compulsory courses.
The paper shows that good teaching matters, especially for later labor market outcomes. In contrast, the effect on academic performance is smaller. Moreover, the authors show that for high-ability students the professors who are best at improving their students’ grades at university are also the ones who boost their earnings the most. On the contrary, for low ability students the academic and labor market returns of teachers are largely uncorrelated. Another finding of the study is that professors who are good at teaching high-ability students are often not the best teachers for the least able.
The findings have important implication for the hiring decisions of universities: According to the authors some universities may see themselves as elite institutions and consequently aim at recruiting the very best students and the teachers who are best at maximizing the performance of such students. Other institutions may aim at transmitting the body of knowledge of one or several disciplines, regardless of the market value of such knowledge. A third group of institutions may take a more pragmatic approach and decide to provide their students with the competencies with the highest market returns at a specific point in time and space. The authors regard the differences between community colleges and universities in the U.S. or the dual systems of academic and vocational education that are common in countries like Germany and Switzerland as good examples of teaching institutions with different objective functions.