Bryan Caplan poses again the puzzle about students, human capital, and signaling. I won’t repeat it because he says it so well. One of his commenters, Cameron Mulder, has an interesting piece of evidence against the idea that students rejoice when professors cancel class.

I have another piece of evidence. I taught a 40-hour Microeconomics course in Prague in the fall of 1999, under the auspices of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Students who graduated would get an MBA from RIT. The classes were from 8:00 a.m. to noon every weekday for 2 weeks. The students during those 2 weeks took only my class and spent each afternoon and evening working on problem sets and/or doing the readings for the next day.

At the end of Friday of the first week, I started feeling a bad cold coming on. So I cancelled my plans to see the countryside of the Czech Republic that weekend and holed up in my hotel room trying to get better. By Monday I was better but not great. At the end of the 4-hour class on Monday, I was dragging. I told the students why. On Tuesday morning, a number of the students came to class with various home remedies for my condition, ranging from a Vicks Vapor-like substance, but way stronger, to rub on my chest and under my nose, to one guy’s sure-fire alcohol cure. They made it clear that although they liked me and were looking out for me, it was even more important to them that I show up each day so that they didn’t get “cheated” out of their education they had paid for.

Oh, yes; they had paid for it. As I recall, the tuition was approximately $6,000 to $10,000, depending on what country they came from. It was price discrimination: there were no scholarships. The Czech residents paid towards the top end of the scale and they were overwhelmingly the ones who came with the home remedies. (I don’t want to make too much of this because the other ones, coming from other countries, might not have had their pet home remedies available.) That number was a large % of annual salaries in the Czech Republic.

So here’s my thought. When people are paying their own way, they want the education they’re paying for. I don’t know how general this is. Bryan could still be right. But it’s one interesting piece of counter-evidence.

Certainly, that fits my own case. I started college at age 16 and my father, knowing my ability to manage money, gave me all the money he had saved for my college. It was enough to pay for about 1.3 years of a 3-year college degree. I financed the rest with some scholarships and some savings and mainly money I earned. If a professor didn’t show up, I was upset. There was one exception: my French professor my first year. That course was hell: she spoke only French and Polish and had almost zero knowledge of English. Virtually everything else I took, I liked, and wanted the classes not to be cancelled.