"I take the tools they learned in economics
and apply them to policy questions such as
food stamps, minimum wage and international trade."
Politicians love to talk about eliminating welfare, expanding employment
and improving education. But economist Becky Roselius wants to know
which social programs actually work to alleviate poverty, and why.
Roselius, one of the Institute's newest assistant professors, received
her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where she was a doctoral
fellow of the Center for the Study of Urban Inequality. Her research
focuses on effective evaluation of social programs, such as job
training. She looks at the costs and benefits of education and training
programs, and their policy implications.
For example, Roselius
re-evaluates non-experimental methods for evaluating JTPA, the federal
job training program for low-income, low-skilled workers. The original,
experimental evaluation found low success rates for youth, and only
moderate success for adults. Although experiments are considered the
most accurate method to evaluate social programs, experiments can have
inherent biases and can be politically problematic and disruptive to
ongoing programs. Roselius and her colleagues at the University of
Chicago compare several alternative, non-experimental methods to the
experimental results and uncover many of the underlying flaws in
non-experimental methodology. The flaws arise in part from problems with
bias. This type of bias occurs because participants in the program are
compared to similar persons who did not participate but differ in
unobservable ways that effect program outcomes. Roselius' studies reveal
that better methods can overcome selection bias and other flaws with
Roselius' current and future research will
continue to apply and improve on these methods in settings where
selection bias is likely to arise. Her newest research will estimate the
impact computers have on learning in school and productivity at work.
The methods honed in her previous research will attempt to control for
the selection bias that arises when comparing grades and productivity of
persons who use computers to similar persons in similar situations who
do not use computers.
These research issues dovetail nicely with the
questions Roselius raises for her undergraduate and graduate public
policy students. In her undergraduate class on Economic Analysis and
Public Policy, Roselius teaches students to use economic tools to
evaluate the impact of public policies.
"I take the tools they learned
in their introductory economics class," she says, "and apply them to
policy questions such as food stamps, minimum wages, international
trade, and labor force participation decisions." Students are
encouraged to communicate with Roselius and each other between classes,
via a class newsgroup on the Institute's web page. In this way, students
can post a question, or an article to the whole class, for email
discussion and further discussion in the next class. The students also
learn to use the web to find data to analyze policy questions and to
find articles related to their interests.
In her graduate class on
Poverty and Policy, Roselius teaches her students to critically evaluate
arguments and evidence in support of (or against) various policy
recom-mendations to alleviate poverty. Students also discuss the role
values play in shaping policies related to welfare, job training,
housing, enterprise zones, and education.
"The key word for this class
is 'evidence,'" Roselius says. "We ask, 'What evidence is presented?
Where are the weaknesses? What rival explanations could explain it?'
Only then can we evaluate the effectiveness of policies our value
systems lead us to promote."