Educational Attainment as a Proxy for Cognitive Ability in Selection: Effects on Levels of Cognitive Ability and Adverse Impact

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The authors examined the differences in mean level of cognitive ability and adverse impact that can be expected when selecting employees solely on educational attainment as a proxy for cognitive ability versus selecting employees directly on cognitive ability. Selection using cognitive ability worked as a more efficient cognitive screen. Imposing an educational attainment standard of at least 1 year of college, though, did result in noticeably higher levels of cognitive ability in potential applicant pools than did random selection, meaning that educational attainment does work as a cognitive screen. These results held not only in a nationally representative sample but also within and across 6 different occupational groups. Finally, adverse impact is examined for selection using educational attainment, compared with selection on the basis of cognitive ability.

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