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The Economic Payoff to Education

Is going to college really worth the money? This is the question that Princeton economist Orley Ashenfelter '64 attempts to answer as he investigates the correlation between education level and income. As an educator, he would prefer to think that individuals pursue learning because they enjoy it. However, since the answer also has to do with the limits on our resources, the role of education as an investment also needs to be addressed.

Ashenfelter's creative approach to the study of higher education and earning ability relies heavily on data collected from twins and other closely related individuals. The economist enjoys working with tough quantitative problems that do not necessarily have ready solutions.

Ashenfelter is the first member of his family to go to college. He came to CMC on a scholarship from the Rohr Corporation. Although he was originally interested in engineering, he soon fell in love with economics. CMC economist Orme Phelps lured him into the teaching profession by telling him that, as an academic, he would be able to speak his mind. "Don't expect to hear straight answers on Wall Street. Academic economists don't usually have a vested interest in the information they hand out in the classroom. Of course, once an academic economist has been hired by a politician or a law firm, watch out!"

Except for time spent studying and teaching in England and working in the Department of Labor, Ashenfelter has been at Princeton University since he graduated from Claremont Men's College in 1964.