In education research and education policy, much attention is paid to schools, curricula, and teachers, but little attention is paid to the characteristics of students. Differences in general cognitive ability (g
) are often overlooked as a source of important variance among schools and in outcomes among students within schools. Standardized test scores such as the SAT and ACT are reasonably good proxies for g
and are available for most incoming college students. Though the idea of g
being important in education is quite old, we present contemporary evidence that colleges and universities in the United States vary considerably in the average cognitive ability of their students, which correlates strongly with other methods (including international methods) of ranking colleges. We also show that these g
differences are reflected in the extent to which graduates of colleges are represented in various high-status and high-income occupations. Finally, we show how including individual-level measures of cognitive ability can substantially increase the statistical power of experiments designed to measure educational treatment effects. We conclude that education policy researchers should give more consideration to the concept of individual differences in cognitive ability as well as other factors.
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