How does a college education impact income inequality? University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point junior Kyle Pulvermacher took on this question as part of research he will present at the UW System Research in the Rotunda event on March 8 in Madison.
Held at the State Capitol, the event invites undergraduates from across the UW System to showcase their student research. Pulvermacher is among six UW-Stevens Point students who will present their work at the annual event, sharing it with state legislators and government officials as well as their peers across the system.
Pulvermacher, an actuarial mathematics major and economics minor from Waupaca, found a strong correlation between higher education and higher income during his research. He collaborated with his economics professor and UWSP Center for the Business and Economic Insight (CBEI) Director Scott Wallace, who has previously published analysis on U.S. income equality.
Wallace said he was impressed with Pulvermacher’s creativity and his strong quantitative mathematics background. Pulvermacher works part-time in the CBEI as a research assistant, helping to produce university reports on economic indicators for the local community.
After months of data analysis, Pulvermacher’s biggest obstacle was finding adequate, relevant sources for his literature review. As he studied the factors that contributed to economic inequality in Wisconsin, he was able to show an economic relationship between the variables and draw a conclusion: Wisconsin counties with higher levels of college-educated populations have greater income inequality.
The U.S. Census Bureau calculates income inequality as the ratio of the mean income for the top 20 percent of earners divided by the mean income of the bottom 20 percent in a particular county.
Pulvermacher said his study results are consistent with economic literature pointing to how a rising imbalance in the supply and demand of high-skilled labor has resulted in rapid income gains to college-educated workers, leaving behind those without a college degree.
The data indicates that, on average, counties with higher rates of postsecondary educational attainment have greater income inequality, he said. Moreover, this positive relationship was found to be statistically significant.
“These results, in combination with further research, led me to my conclusion that greater income gains were made by college graduates in Wisconsin,” he said. “Additionally, the results were consistent with data showing a clear shortage of college-educated workers in Wisconsin.”
In terms of salary disparity, the average earnings of those completing a bachelor’s degree over the past decade have increased by about $13,000, while those who finished their education as a high school graduate have increased by $4,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Pulvermacher and Wallace are both attending Research in the Rotunda for the first time, viewing the student work that has been carefully crafted after weeks of in-depth research and analysis.
The findings of Pulvermacher’s income inequality data provide a meaningful call to action, Wallace said. “We must expand opportunities to help people attain higher levels of higher education, creating less of a gap and bringing everyone up.”
To meet the growing workforce demand, four-year universities and technical colleges will play a key role in preparing future employees to enter the labor force.
Pulvermacher said he’s pleased with his research experience. Yet, presenting under the Capitol rotunda, in front of peers in the UW System, state legislators and other state leaders, comes with a level of pressure, he said.
“Kyle is exceptional, curious and ambitious and just one of the nicest people you can meet,” said Wallace.
To enter the actuarial field, Pulvermacher will have to master a series of preliminary exams. His probability professor and class adviser,Hurlee Gonchigdanzan, said Pulvermacher has the mathematical mind and talent for it. He already passed his first mandatory exam with a high score.
He will be an actuary intern at Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point this summer.
A spotlight on UW-Stevens Point student research
In addition to Pulvermacher, five additional students are presenting as part of Research in the Rotunda, including:
- “Comparing Reproductive Traits and Viscin Threat Production in Selfing and Outcrossing Species of Clarkia,” by Megan Schimka, biology and French, and co-authors Frankie Will and Morgan Gibbs, biology
Schimka spent 15 hours a week over the summer working in a lab with pollen samples from the flowering plant, Clarkia. She compared self-mating plants to cross-pollinating species. Using the scanning electron microscope in the Chemistry Biology Building, she has been able to view the plant pollen threads at 5,000 times larger that actual size.
“No one’s studied this aspect,” she said. “We don’t know why the (viscin threads) are there.”
Gibbs and Will joined the project this semester and are collaborating with Schimka to image their samples and create pollen count data for Research in the Rotunda. The findings so far indicate that the Clarkia plant shows adaptive thinking traits in its reproduction.
- “The Fight to Tell History: Battles over the National History Standards in the 1990s,” by Kyle Beyersdorf, history and political science
Working with history professor and faculty-mentor Lee Willis, Beyersdorf examined the years-long development of the National History Standards in the 90s and the rifts that followed. The development was part of an educational reform measure passed on from President Bush to President Clinton’s administration in 1992.
His work details how the bipartisan set of standards fell under fire, in particular with the history in charge of standards, Gary Nash. Beyersdorf used historical narratives, newspaper articles and Nash’s book, “History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past,” in his research. He will explain the arguments for standards made by both partisan sides and the outcomes, complicated by decades of two opposing perceptions of the best methods for teaching history.
Beyersdorf said his research will equip him as he prepares to start graduate study this fall. He is interested in a career as a higher education administrator.
- “Initial Insights on the Thermal Ecology of Lake Whitefish in Northwestern Lake Michigan,” by Kayla Reed, fisheries and water resources
Reed studied the effects of climate-related changes in water temperature on lake whitefish. Archival temperature loggers were implanted into 400 lake whitefish from northwestern Lake Michigan, including Green Bay, in 2017. The analysis shows that these whitefish show some tolerance for warmer water, which can me used as a baseline for future work aimed at determining how lake whitefish habitat availability may change in the future.
- “Composting Deactivation of Chronic Wasting Disease Prions: Final Results,” by Amber Smith, wildlife ecology and management
Smith took part in a research project that studied the effect of composting on deer infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD). The prions that cause the infection and could transfer to animals or humans could become inactive through the composting process through high temperatures and microorganisms. Several composting methods were used to create an unstable habitat for pathogen survival. Findings suggest that static compost piles did not completely break down the CWD prion.
- “An Exploration of General Music Curricula Throughout Our Region,” by Alex St. Louis, a music education
Louis’ research was to define the curricula differences between general music classes in the state of Wisconsin. He surveyed several general music teachers around the state to ask them to outline their curricula, if it was state mandated and what activities were most useful to their students. His findings pose a concern that teachers without a curriculum are guessing about what they should be teaching.