In a Normal Recession, Education Is One of the Biggest Losers

Will college students be more or less likely to pursue a career in teaching in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic? I can think of arguments either way, and it’s far too early to know for sure, but past recessions have pushed students away from teaching. Here’s my takeaway from a 2015 paper looking at how college students react to economic cycles:

The paper looks at the college majors of students who turned age 20 between 1960 and 2011. Then, it linked the students’ decisions with data on macroeconomic trends to examine how business cycles affect student choices. Of the 38 majors included in the study, education was the biggest loser. When recessions hit, both men and women were less likely to want to become teachers and instead turned to fields like accounting and engineering. In number terms, the researchers estimate that, “each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate…decreases the share of women choosing Early and Elementary Education by a little more than 6 percent.” (For men it was even higher.)

It’s possible that this time will be different. For one, the health implications of the novel coronavirus may force college students to make a different calculation than normal. Or, the suddenness of this recession may affect how quickly students can react or alter their prior plans. But from the financial aspect alone, we should expect fewer students to pursue teaching over the next few years than would have otherwise.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

 

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