Since 2013, economics has been the most popular major for graduating seniors in Yale College. Although the department has welcomed the increased interest as a chance to expand its academic offerings, it has faced some logistical challenges as a result, according to the department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies Ebonya Washington.
In the Class of 2019, 155 students are majoring in economics, according to the major’s registrar Qazi Azam. The department consists of 49 faculty members and 80 different exclusively undergraduate course offerings this academic year. With the addition of the two new residential colleges, the number of students majoring in economics is likely to increase in future years. But the department does not anticipate adding more faculty, according to Washington. Furthermore, while the past decade has seen growth in student enrollment, the level of diversity among economics students has remained low.
“The whole University has gotten larger and we’re really feeling the bigger classes,” Washington said. “But my understanding is the administration’s response is we will not be increasing the faculty size in response to the increase in the number of students.”
The inability to hire new professors has sometimes hindered students, according to intermediate macroeconomics professor Michael Peters.
Peters said that there have been times when too many students wanted to work with a specific professor on their thesis and had to be turned down. He also noted that occasionally there are not enough teaching assistants to provide “enough guidance for everyone.” But he added that the department understands that to accommodate rising demand, they “have to grow.”
Despite an increase in the number of economics majors, a diversity problem persists in attracting women and underrepresented minorities. Only a third of economics majors are female, but Washington noted efforts to increase female participation in the major. Recently, undergraduates began a new Women in Economics club, which is hosting a career fair on Saturday to help economics majors find positions in the field.
“I think there are many things we can do [to increase diversity],” Washington said. “A couple years ago, I had a junior come to my office, female. She said, ‘I just read one of your papers in my class. I didn’t know that you could do that with economics.’ And so, I think that’s our problem. The economics of education, the economics of race and gender … we need to get more of that in the introductory classes.”
In his lectures, Peters said he has raised the issue of diversity several times, viewing it as a critical impediment for the study of economics as a whole.
Though the issue of diversity remains a top priority for the department, professors are encouraged by the enduring popularity of economics. Peters believes that the 2007 Great Recession and the growth of technology has had a lasting impact on these students.
“It’s a strong generational effect. The current students are so much more interested in economics because they’ve been living through a time where economic policy was in the news every day,” Peters said. “The current generation is so much more data-savvy and empirically savvy than I was when I started. Economics is a discipline which always put data and empirics as a centerpiece… I think that’s very appealing to students.”
The department has reformed its course offerings to accommodate these student preferences, Washington said. New econometrics courses were offered this fall that are more relevant to real-world economic research.
Additionally, faculty have expanded upon undergraduate research opportunities for students in the summer and during the school year. The department feels these changes keep it in a good position to continue offering an enriching academic experience for students, Peters said.
“[Increasing enrollment] does pose some logistical challenges, but that’s a small price to pay,” Washington said. “We’re pleased that people are giving economics a chance.”
Economics is also the largest concentration at Harvard College.
Siddarth Shankar | firstname.lastname@example.org .
Correction, Feb. 8: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Professor Michael Peters was a Yale alum.