Innovation and Collaboration Shape New Degrees for School of Economics Students

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As a field, economics frequently takes on large-scale questions about health care, the environment or immigration, and addressing these kinds of global issues often requires collaboration with other disciplines. This year, Drexel’s School of Economics, housed within the LeBow College of Business, introduced five new combined majors that pair an economist’s broad, data-focused worldview with other dynamic fields outside of traditional economics, creating some new programs that are the first of their kind among colleges in the U.S.:

Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Economics, Business and Organizations
Bachelor of Science in Economics and Business
Bachelor of Science in Economics and Data Science
Bachelor of Science in Economics and Mathematics
Bachelor of Science in Economics and Public Health

We asked School of Economics Director and Professor of Economics Mark Stehr, PhD, about the genesis of these new offerings and how they’ll benefit Drexel students.

Q: How did you identify these areas as opportunities for combined degrees?

Mark Stehr, PhD: The new majors came about in a few different ways, and all were driven by what we’re seeing in terms of growth and job demand in these respective disciplines. It’s critical that we continue to evolve our offerings to meet the needs of industry and society.

Previously, there were mathematics and business concentrations within the BS in Economics degree. In creating the Economics and Business combined degree, we saw this as an opportunity to further take advantage of our home in the business school and really bridge the gap for students who were actively seeking out business courses. We maintained the general framework for understanding the world provided by economics, but with a stronger emphasis on applying that framework to business. The Economics and Mathematics combination is great for students who are headed for quantitative roles in industry or who might want to pursue a PhD in economics. Elevating it from a concentration to an equal part of the major drives home the focus on advanced studies in mathematics.

Public Health and Economics might not seem like an obvious combination, but the two fields have more in common than you might think, and we’re excited that this is one of the first programs of its kind among universities in the U.S. Public health seeks broad ways to improve population health such as medical care, and also examines the social, environmental and economic determinants of health such as education, language and culture, or housing. Economics, on the other hand, looks at how to organize production and distribution of goods to improve people’s lives. Health is a major part of what economists seek to maximize, and the economy plays a huge role in determinants of population health, including access to medical care, housing, healthy diets and so on.

The major in Economics and Data Science, offered jointly with Drexel’s College of Computing & Informatics, came from the need to train economics students to work with the new sources of emerging data, including websites, social media, mobile devices, and to quantify the information in traditional media such as books and other texts. For example, it’s now possible to scrape data from websites or documents and merge it with existing datasets to create better, more up-to-date economic and business indicators. Businesses and government institutions really want individuals with these data-driven skills, and for students who might want to pursue a doctorate, data-science skills can really come in handy as well.

Lastly, behavioral economics has emerged as a field within economics over the past two decades. It’s gained quite a bit of attention in the popular press through books such as “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely, and both the UK and US governments initiated “nudge units” to bring insights from behavioral economics and other areas of social science into policymaking. For our Behavioral Economics, Business and Organizations major, we created a curriculum that draws on our strengths in marketing, organizational behavior and psychology to create an interdisciplinary plan of study that incorporates behavioral economics while occupying a somewhat different niche.

Q: What are the advantages of taking a combined major versus pursuing two degrees separately?

Stehr: Pursuing two degrees requires that students complete two separate sets of general education requirements. Although some courses may overlap, many do not, which requires a student to spend extra time on introductory courses rather than on higher-level courses that teach more advanced content. There’s a clear desire on the part of students to study more than one area, particularly in the case of economics, as we’ve seen a lot of growing interest in economics as a second major.

The combined majors provide a path for students to engage in two areas of study while only having one set of general education requirements. Despite covering two subject areas, each combined major still offers roughly a full year of free electives for students to pursue a minor or other area of interest.

Q: What opportunities for innovation do these programs present?

Stehr: As we’ve revised our undergraduate economics curriculum, we’ve also introduced new courses as part of these combined programs. One example, ECON 270: Using Big Data to Solve Economics and Social Problems, teaches students to do exactly that: using firm-level data, students study the geography of innovation and entrepreneurship. They can then use event studies to examine things like the effect of charter schools on a neighborhood or evaluate policies designed to increase upward mobility with quasi-experimental methods. This course was originally developed by Raj Chetty, an award-winning economist at Harvard who has made the course available to other universities.

Another new course, ECON 370: Experiments and Causality in Economics, teaches students new techniques in econometrics, such as how to conduct field experiments, which are like lab experiments that use randomization to determine the causal effect of some intervention but in a more natural setting such as a workplace, street fair or gym with subjects who are workers or customers.

Q: How can students learn more or enroll in one of these new combined majors?

Stehr: Current students interested in pursuing one of these combined degrees should contact their academic advisor. Prospective students should contact me or Aqila Clement, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Programs & Recruitment for the School of Economics and LeBow College of Business.

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