Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

Second Department





academic, achievement, cognitive, non, traditional


Through a comprehensive examination of the high school educational experience, this analysis seeks to determine what policy approaches would generate the greatest returns on taxpayers’ investments. Specifically, it looks beyond the traditional influences of academic achievement, family background, and school environment and considered the impact of non-cognitive characteristics signaled by the personal decisions, personal values, and peer behavior. Using the log of future wage rates as the dependent variable, it conducts an OLS regression to measure the respective influences each of these factors possess while holding all others constant. In doing so, it employs cross-sectional, student-level data from the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS). The goal of this analysis is to determine whether or not traditional approaches to educational policy—which typically focus on raising test scores (academic achievement) or reducing structural inequality—best serve the students they affect. It finds that a collection of non-cognitive traits affect future wages on a far greater scale than any traditional variables. Assuming that taxpayers hope to maximize returns on their investments into public schools, this suggests that policymakers would serve their constituents well by introducing reforms foster the development of constructive non-cognitive characteristics in addition to those centered on elevating academic achievement and reducing inequality.