With the 2016-2017 school year quickly approaching, many high school students are about to begin their endeavor into the college application process. This means many hours of writing essays and filling out applications and taking standardized tests, a daunting task for the average seventeen year old. However, students realize that, while the acts of testing and applying themselves may be awful, doing so is all in the means of one vital concept- improving their human capital. In his book “Naked Economics”, Charles Wheelan defines human capital as “the sum total of skills embodied within an individual”[i]. Because of its measure of skill, the size or depth of one’s human capital can help them when it comes to joining the workforce, etc. So, does this mean that by simply writing several essays and taking tests during the college application process that these students have made their human capital bigger, and will help them succeed more later on? Perhaps some students may have increased their writing or testing skills to some extent, which would technically make their human capital grow, but what they are really working towards in the long run is the opportunity for a good education.
A good education is vital to human capital. While there are of course many things that contribute to it, education is one of the most important among intelligence, charisma, creativity, work experience, and several others. That being said, isn’t it important that each student has the equal opportunity to go to a good college- so they can increase their human capital and thus be more well-off? In a perfect world this would be the case; but, much like many other situations in dealing with human capital as a whole, one’s social or financial status can oftentimes put them at a disadvantage in this sense.
With the SAT, for example, a controversial discussion over how a family’s income can affect their student’s test score has recently surfaced. “On average, students … in every income bracket outscore students in a lower bracket on every section of the test, according to calculations from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing”, writes The Wall Street Journal [ii]. Meanwhile, students in higher income brackets also have significantly higher score percentiles than students in lower income brackets. Does this not imply that a family’s income has a distinct impact on a student’s test scores? One author goes as far as to say that, rather than being called its traditional name of “Scholastic Aptitude Test”, perhaps people should begin referring to the SAT as the “Student Affluence Test”.
This debate over the SAT reflects on much more than simple test scores or percentiles; for, “when the SAT is crucial to college, college is crucial to income, and income is crucial to SAT scores, a mutually reinforcing cycle develops” [iii]. This holds true for many other aspects of potential human capital as well. If, because of one’s financial or social status, someone cannot move forward in some aspect or are put at a disadvantage, at what point will there be an opportunity to truly advance this potential? Will there ever be one, or will financial status continue to enforce this cycle of dampening human capital?
[i] Wheelan, Charles J. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: Norton, 2010
[ii] “SAT Scores and Income Inequality: How Wealthier Kids Rank Higher.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web.
[iii] “SAT Scores and Income Inequality: How Wealthier Kids Rank Higher.” WSJ. N.p., n.d. Web.