In a world rife with complex global challenges, the need for innovative solutions to problems of development has never been greater. While we laud global efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, an estimated 9.2 percent of the world’s population continues to live on less than $2.15 a day. Global inequality is on the rise, 38 percent of the global population lives in ‘Not Free’ countries, the highest proportion since 1997, and it will take another estimated 132 years to close the global gender gap. If there ever was a time to re-imagine our models of societal development, it would be now. While Yale is one of the leading centers for graduate education and research in development economics, there is a critical gap for undergraduates who wish to engage with the subject on campus. A certificate in Development Studies, akin to those in Energy Studies and Human Rights Studies, would provide a structured and multidisciplinary pathway for undergraduates to academically explore economic, social and political development.
Undergraduate students, particularly those without a background in economics, face obstacles in accessing courses on development. Courses in economics and political science (such as ECON 326 and ECON 340/PLSC 359) have prerequisites in microeconomics and econometrics which are often only met later in one’s time at Yale, making it difficult for students to engage with these courses before their junior year. ‘Approaches to International Development’ (GLBL 225), while being a survey of the underpinnings of economic development, is limited to global affairs majors. Even specialized seminars on regional development are often oversubscribed and typically limited to advanced majors. This can be particularly challenging for students who are interested in exploring development issues from an interdisciplinary perspective, as they need to make a curriculum for themselves by navigating multiple departments for relevant courses.
It is surprising that Yale, which has a long and illustrious history of engagement with global development, does not offer a more comprehensive program for undergraduates interested in the field. Our campus houses the Economic Growth Center (EGC), which, at its founding in 1961, was the first research center in a major U.S. university focused on the quantitative study of lower-income economies. The university offers the highly regarded Masters in International and Development Economics program and has a faculty conducting cutting-edge research on a wide range of development questions. This is not to say that communities at Yale have not made great efforts to further the cause of development studies on campus. The Herb Scarf and Tobin Programs at the Department of Economics, the EGC and Y-RISE offer research opportunities for students, and The Yale Political Union and Yale Effective Altruism frequently debate issues pertinent to development. The nascent Salus Populi Foundation was established with a mission to offer undergraduates an avenue to engage with development at Yale. In the last year, we’ve organized a fellowship to introduce first-year students to the principles of development and coordinated speaker events with a range of academics and policy-makers. While these initiatives are valuable, the fact remains that there are few avenues for undergraduates to academically engage with Development Studies on campus.
There is precedent for an academic program in Development Studies. A number of leading universities offer undergraduate degrees in the field such as the London School of Economics and the University of California, Los Angeles. Brown University offers an interdisciplinary concentration in Development Studies, and seniors at Stanford University can enroll in an Interdisciplinary Honors Program in “Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.” The University of California, Berkeley offers a minor in Global Poverty Practice, which was established in 2007 and has grown to become one of the college’s largest minors with students from over 60 different majors.
Beyond training a new generation of development practitioners, the certificate would be beneficial to students in their personal lives, helping them become more engaged global citizens and seek purposeful lives. Understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with operating in emerging markets would also be highly valuable to students interested in careers in the private sector, including the majority of Yalies that seek careers in finance and consulting.
Yale College already has a framework for developing multidisciplinary certifications within its curriculum to “encourage students to engage within and across departmental, divisional, and disciplinary boundaries.” The proposed certificate could require a core course focused on the foundations of development, similar to the already-existing GLBL 225. Students could select electives from across the social sciences, history, and area studies, and might choose to conduct a capstone or research project.
Yale is uniquely positioned to offer a rigorous and intellectually stimulating program that prepares students to contend with pressing issues in development. The establishment of an undergraduate certificate program in Development Studies would be a natural extension of Yale’s legacy in shaping development thinking. It would allow Yalies to develop a structured understanding of the policies, practices, and processes of development within a cohesive framework and engage with the current course offerings that are often siloed within specific departments. To borrow from the epilogue of Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee’s ‘Good Economics for Hard Times’, “The call to action is not just for academic economists — it is for all of us that want a better, saner, more humane world. Economics is too important to be left to economists.”
BILAL MOIN is a junior in Grace Hopper College and the founder of the Salus Populi Foundation. Contact him at email@example.com.