Ambition matters,writes Bryan Caplan on EconLog. It explains why students who apply to selective colleges earn more than those who set modest goals.
In Ambition Revisited, he looks at James Rosenbaum’s College-For-All: Do Students Understand What College Demands? It shows degree completion as a function of high school students’ grades and goals.
Exhibit A: Percentage of high school seniors who plan to get a BA who successfully do so.
Exhibit B: Percentage of high school seniors who plan to get an AA who successfully do so.
More than two-thirds of A-students who plan to get a BA succeed, compared to less than half of A-students who plan to get an AA, Caplan observes. “This pattern extends all the way down to the weakest students.” In fact, B students who aim for a bachelor’s are as likely to succeed as A students who aim for an associate degree.
It’s likely seniors who want a BA are more ambitious than classmates willing to settle for an AA, Caplan writes. “As a result, they are — holding grades fixed — markedly more likely to achieve their goal despite its intrinsic difficulty. Seniors who say they only want an AA, in contrast, simultaneously aim low and fall short.”
Ninth graders should be shown Exhibit A: Less than half of B students and one fifth of C students earn a bachelor’s degree. Ambition isn’t enough: You need to do the work in high school.