Stories of Excellence–Dr. Bill Kiker
Dr. Bill Kiker is an advocate for education. For those familiar with the field of economics, his name will not be an unfamiliar one. Before he achieved national and international acclaim with his work, he began his higher education journey at his local college.
After returning to Statesville from active military duty, Dr. Kiker attended what was then Mitchell College to continue his education. At the time, the college was a two-year co-education institution with on-campus housing–a blend of its current community college state and a modern four-year institution. Students came from across the nation to attend Mitchell College. “I recall students who were from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia,” he said. This diversity of students made a lasting impression on Dr. Kiker. The instructors at Mitchell– Professor Brown and Dean Howard Allen, in particular–also positively influenced Dr. Kiker’s studies and career. Dr. Kiker also met his wife Jane while at Mitchell. Education has played and continues to play a lead role in their lives, with both Dr. and Mrs. Kiker dedicating years of service to teaching.
Dr. Kiker was the President of the student body in 1959, and he won the “President’s Award” as an honor graduate and the “History Award” for leadership and scholarship. “I was a dedicated student,” he noted. “I was likely more mature than most, having already served a few years in the military.” After graduating from Mitchell, Dr. Kiker enrolled at Lenoir-Rhyne to pursue his bachelor’s degree. While enrolled at Lenoir-Rhyne, he worked part-time as a staff announcer, disc jockey and sports play-by-play announcer with WSIC radio in Statesville.
Dr. Kiker had not initially planned on a career in economics, but after being nominated at Lenoir-Rhyne for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for graduate study, his future changed. He was a finalist for the prestigious honor, and because of that, many colleges and universities offered him fellowships to continue his education. He decided to attend the University of South Carolina where he earned his Master of Economics. He went on to obtain his Ph.D. in Economics from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1965.
Upon graduating with his Ph.D., Dr. Kiker accepted a position as an assistant economics professor at the Darla School of Business at the University of South Carolina. During his tenure at USC, he served as an Assistant Professor (1965-68), Associate Professor (1968-71), Professor (1971-2006), Director of the Center for Studies in Human Capital (1972-75) and Chairman of the Department of Economics (1972-87). His specializations are human capital, applied microeconomics and macroeconomic theory.
Dr. Kiker has been recognized worldwide as one of the leading pioneers of human capital economics. His expertise has taken him all over the world teaching and lecturing. Over the years, he has studied a variety of topics within human capital such as healthcare, migration, male and female wage differentials and human capital losses resulting from the Vietnam War. One of his most well-known research efforts was on the value of household service. Dr. Kiker believes that the cost of household services should be calculated as part of the GNP. “To leave it out devalues the output of the U.S. economy,” he said.
Dr. Kiker’s first article “The Historical Roots of the Concept of Human Capital,” was published in the then leading journal of his profession, the Journal of Political Economy. This article has since been reprinted multiple times. He has published six books and monographs and dozens of articles. Much of his work has been co-authored with former students and colleagues at the University of South Carolina. “A goal of mine was to maximize the number of publications coming from the Department of Economics,” Dr. Kiker noted. “The best way to accomplish that goal during my early career was through collaborations and mentoring.”
Dr. Kiker’s book of readings on the concept of human capital, Investment in Human Capital, became a popular textbook in graduate courses in the emerging field in economics, human capital. He has also developed economic models which are still in use today. His co-authored piece in the June 1974 American Economic Review, “Earnings, Employment, and Racial Discrimination: Additional Evidence,” was a major contribution to an emerging literature on race discrimination. In the 80’s he began investigating the impact of socioeconomic background and investigating the possible channels for intergenerational transfer of economic advantage. This research was published in several top journals and continues to be cited in the economics and sociology literature.
Dr. Kiker has received many awards over the years. In 1972, the University of South Carolina awarded him the Jeff B. Bates Chair which he held to near retirement. Upon retirement, he became a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. In 1988, he received a Fulbright fellowship to teach in Portugal. He received the USC Educational Foundation Research Award in 1994. Among the many biographical listings in which Dr. Kiker’s name appears are: Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America, The Dictionary of Distinguished Americans, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century.
His work in human capital elicited comments from such distinguished Nobel Laureates in Economics as Professor T. W. Schultz of the University of Chicago who wrote in 1974: “I have had the privilege of following the contributions of Professor B. F. Kiker in the area of human capital closely during recent years. I have learned a great deal form his work. He has given the profession a historical perspective on the concept of human capital and has succeeded in extending its applications. My professional debt to Dr. Kiker is indeed large.”
Even though his work has brought him national acclaim, Dr. Kiker says watching his graduate students’ success is the most rewarding part of his career. “I have dozens of former graduate students all over the world doing all kinds of things. Seeing them get their degrees, jobs, and first publications, that’s really great.” Always advocating for education, Dr. Kiker–along with his wife Jane–strives to make an impact in future generations of scholars.
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Above: Bill Kiker studying during his time at Mitchell.