The Education-Innovation Gap
81 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2022 Last revised: 12 May 2023
Date Written: March 2022
This paper studies the dissemination of frontier knowledge through higher education. Applying natural language processing (NLP) techniques to the text of 1.7M university course syllabi and 20M academic articles, we construct the “education-innovation gap,” a measure of a syllabus’s distance from frontier knowledge. Using this measure, we document four new facts. First, courses differ greatly in their education-innovation gap, even after controlling for field, course-level, and time. Second, instructors play an important role in shaping course content. Research-active instructors teach more frontier knowledge, particularly when their research is close to the course topic. Third, access to frontier knowledge is unequal: Schools enrolling more socio-economically advantaged students offer courses with a lower gap. Lastly, students from lower-gap schools are more likely to complete a doctoral degree, produce more patents, and earn more after graduation.
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