Economics of education

Conference highlights research related to effectiveness of tuition freezes, voucher school system and more

In Wisconsin and throughout the country, people disagree on how to best provide education. Should government invest in the voucher school program, implement tuition freezes or dedicate more funds to early childhood education?

John Nunley, UWL associate professor of Economics.

John Nunley, UWL associate professor of Economics, says when it comes to making decisions about educational investments, careful analysis of research is important. Leading researchers in the economics-of-education field will share their latest information to help answer these questions and more during an Economics of Education Conference at UWL, Thursday and Friday, Oct. 19-20. Topics covered will span from children’s development to higher education. Thursday’s activities will focus on pre-adult education and Friday will focus on higher education. The conference is free.

A panel discussion from 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, in 1309 Centennial Hall, will focus on the latest research into the effects of education on the development of children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills. The event, “Transforming Education: The Importance of Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skill Acquisition to the Workplace,” will feature experts in the economics-of-education field. Nunley says indicators of K-12 school success are largely based on test scores, yet these measures don’t account for children’s non-cognitive skills when they graduate such as resilience and motivation, as well as the ability to build relationships, think critically, or work on a team. However, those non-cognitive skills are highly important when entering college and the workforce.

The second day of the conference will focus on higher education. Economics of education experts will present their research in sessions from 8 a.m.-noon Friday, Oct. 20, in Cameron Hall of Nations, Centennial Hall. Topics include student loans, the economics of internships, the impact of tuition freezes and state funding on enrollment and graduation rates at public universities, and the labor-market returns associated with different college majors.

Nunley says most Americans believe in The American Dream — the idea that this country affords everyone the opportunity to rise up despite economic circumstances and achieve success if they are motivated and work hard. Yet research shows that the success of the average American in economics terms is highly correlated with the success of his or her parents.

“Children in the U.S. tend to end up a lot like their parents. If their parents are low income, they tend to have low incomes in adulthood,” says Nunley. “Education is thought to be a channel through which we can level the playing field, but it is not working for everyone. What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong, and what should we do differently? That is, for the most part, the impetus for this conference.”

Parking is free for people who register for the conference in advance and use the code they’ll be provided to pay for parking. People who don’t register in advance will need to pay to park on campus. To register and learn more about the conference, visit

UW-La Crosse’s Department of Economics is sponsoring the Economics of Education Conference.

Guest speakers and presenters

Participants include leading researchers in the economics-of-education field, including Susan Dynarski, University of Michigan; David Jaeger, City University of New York; Christopher Walters, University of California—Berkeley; and Matthew Wiswall, University of Wisconsin—Madison.

Participant Bios

Susan Dynarski is a professor of public policy, education and economics at the University of Michigan, where she holds appointments at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, School of Education, Department of Economics and Institute for Social Research and serves as co-director of the Education Policy Initiative. She is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a nonresident senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. Dynarski earned an A.B. in Social Studies from Harvard, a Master of Public Policy from Harvard and a doctoral degree in Economics from MIT. Dynarski’s research focuses on the effectiveness of charter schools, the optimal design of financial aid, the price elasticity of private school attendance, the relationship between postsecondary schooling and labor market outcomes, and the effect of high school reforms on academic achievement and educational attainment.

David Jaeger is a professor of economics in the doctoral program in economics at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, a visiting professor at the Center for Macroeconomic Research a Universität zu Kölnt, a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), CESifo, RWI Research Network, and Center for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College (London), and a faculty affiliate of CUNY Center for Demographic Research (CIDR). Jaeger earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Williams College, two master’s degrees (one in economics, the other in statistics) from University of Michigan, and a doctoral degree in economics from University of Michigan. Jaeger’s research program focuses on the economics of internships, estimating the returns to education, student performance, migration, conflict, and applied econometrics.

Christopher Walters is an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He received his doctoral degree from MIT in 2013 and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in 2008. Walters is a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a Faculty Affiliate at MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative. His research focuses on labor economics, applied econometrics, and the economics of education, with an emphasis on school performance, cost-effectiveness and the determinants of households’ educational choices.

Matthew Wiswall is an associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a faculty research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is an applied microeconomist who conducts research on child development, education policy, and applied econometric methodologies. His research has been funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, and published in academic journals including the Journal of Political Economy, Review of Economic Studies, and Quarterly Journal of Economics. He received his doctoral degree in economics from the University of California-Los Angeles in 2005.

If you go—
What: Economics of Education Conference
Where: Centennial Hall
When: Thursday and Friday, Oct. 19-20
Admission: Free
Registration and schedule: