Five of the eight Ivy League universities have recently reclassified their economics degrees from social science to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Rather than a philosophical shift, university departments are taking advantage of a 2012 federal change that lets graduates in econometrics and quantitative economics apply for more generous visas than those granted to non-STEM majors, therefore attracting more international students.
Nevertheless, the debate about whether economics should fall under the STEM category is one worth having. The profession is in high demand, and the evolving labor market means that future economists must learn interdisciplinary approaches.
Here are five reasons why economics should be categorized as a STEM discipline.
1. Economics Employs Mathematics for Precise Communication
Economics is part of the social sciences, as it studies human behavior. But economists employ mathematics at a fundamental level, from developing models and projections to communicating findings.
Undergraduate students learn algebra, calculus, and statistics, which they then apply to decision-making analyses and quantitative research. To be a successful economist one must have highly developed mathematical skills, since economics programs, particularly at the graduate level, are competitive and prioritize analytical capacity.
2. Economics Develops 21st-Century Skills
The objective of STEM programs is to create professionally and socially qualified individuals to overcome 21st-century challenges. For that reason, these courses should make students learn how to apply the scientific method to everyday life and acquire useful skills for real-world applications. Economics promotes and develops both of them.
Due to the prevalence of mathematics and pragmatism in economics, positivism is the dominant research method in the field. Therefore, economists examine real-world problems and evaluate feasible solutions through economic positivism, a scientific method.
Further, this degree encourages students to acquire or improve on relevant skills for today’s life, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, entrepreneurship and innovation, resourcefulness and resilience, teamwork and collaboration, and a sense of civic responsibility.
3. Economics Students Become Analytical Citizens and Entrepreneurs
These skills will not only help to shape a qualified 21st-century society, but also bring benefits to the students. Students become curious, critical, and independent.
Moreover, Economics students learn “how societies, governments, businesses, households, and individuals allocate their scarce resources.” The fundamental understanding of scarcity and incentives makes for critical citizens and entrepreneurs, and it informs them of the need for technological innovation.
Economists are not passive recipients of statistical information given by governments, firms, or nonprofit organizations. They have the skills to be critical, to question, and to assess whether information is correct.
4. Economics Majors Meet Labor-Market Needs
The STEM classification for university degrees is part of the strategy to educate students of all levels in the four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, in a comprehensive way. It works as an incentive to attract more students to relevant programs that will permit them to occupy jobs that are becoming more and more indispensable.
Economics is already among the most rewarding majors in the job market, along with computer science, engineering, and mathematics. Due to the method, the skills, and the behaviors that students get in an economics degree, studying economics will continue to be relevant for the future.
In November 2017, Mahera Wallia, an alumna of Northwestern University created a petition to recognize economics as a STEM major. More than 150 students and alumni signed this petition. Walia was an international student of economics that struggled to find a firm to sponsor her H-1B visa, given the short horizon of one year for her employment. That would not happen under the STEM designation, because students have the possibility to stay 24 additional months in the United States.
5. Economics Broadens the Application of STEM Tools
STEM advocates should acknowledge that humanities and other non-STEM disciplines will continue to exist as long as a number of people prefer them. That is fine, because individuals should be free to make their own decisions and study or work in the fields that they prefer (although subsidies from taxpayers muddy the water on this).
However, recognizing economics as a STEM major provides a mathematically oriented alternative for students with broader interests. They can get the skills and lessons promoted by the STEM content but apply them to other areas such as finance and entrepreneurship. Economics is a discipline that generates multidisciplinary skills and permits students to combine courses and enter a wide range of careers.