Q&A about new economics concentration

Nathan Lesch, Executive Editor

Starting this semester, Case Western Reserve University’s Economics Department will offer a new concentration, Quantitative Methods, in its undergraduate degree program. The concentration is unique because of its STEM-designation; meaning that it teaches skills the U.S. government deems relevant to the country’s continued economic growth. For international students that wish to remain in the U.S. after they graduate, STEM-designation is especially important because it may allow them to stay longer post-graduation than a non‐STEM-designated major. Assistant Professor of Economics Jenny Hawkins answered several further questions about the concentration.

Q: Can you explain exactly what the new economics concentration is? 

A: The Quantitative Methods concentration is not a new major, but a concentration to a major that has additional requirements to the general major. The Quantitative Methods concentration focuses on quantitative application of economic theory, using mathematics, and statistics or other data analysis techniques. It consists of 15 total courses—three more than the regular economics major. It requires generally the same requirements as the economics major with some added requirements and courses. As with the general economics major, the order in which a student takes courses is quite flexible. 

A student would end up taking 10 economics courses and five non-economics courses or 11 economics courses and four non-economics courses to fulfill the concentration. Within those economics courses, at least six are math or stats intensive. This means at least 10 courses taken for the concentration are math or stats intensive, meaning they explicitly apply calculus or statistical modeling, with the remaining courses also being analytical, but with less mathematical and statistical modeling—say, only using algebra and graphical analysis.

Q: What is the difference between a concentration and a major?

A: A concentration is a specific subject or area of study within a major with specific requirements, typically requiring additional and/or specific courses be taken. This is the first concentration to the Bachelor of Arts in Economics major created. However, majors might have multiple concentration options. A concentration can be listed as such on a resume such as “Bachelor of Arts in Economics, Quantitative Methods concentration” and a concentration is verified on a student’s transcript. 

Q: Why did the department decide to add it now?

A: We’ve been working on this option for several years. Each year we encounter more and more students interested in gaining a more quantitative skillset. We live in a data driven world, and many want to gain skills to work with that data and use more mathematical modeling. While students had the option to pursue quantitative economics courses to gain more empirical and mathematical skills, this concentration gives them more guidance and the opportunity to highlight that focus to potential employers and graduate programs. It also offers international students interested in pursuing economics more job opportunities in the U.S.

Q: Is this program similar to offerings at other universities? How so? How is it different?

A: Many peer institutions have implemented STEM-designated economics majors with similar requirements to our new Quantitative Methods concentration. However, our concentration is more flexible than most of these majors, where students can choose from a menu of non-economics math-, statistics- and programming-based electives to fulfill the requirements.  Our concentration requires at least the same number of math/stats intensive courses as these other programs that explicitly apply calculus or statistical modeling in the courses. 

Q: How do you envision this program appealing to students outside of the economics department?

A: For students with an interest in mathematics or statistics, this concentration offers them the opportunity to apply such concepts to examine human behavior and decision making in a quantitative way. Thus, students studying computer science, mathematics and statistics in particular may find the concentration appealing. Additionally, given the diverse set of topics analyzed by economists, students from other disciplines might find the concentration appealing. For example, students interested in healthcare and finance could add this concentration to focus on developing their quantitative skills for application in those fields. 

Q: Are there any other future plans in the works for the economics department? Particularly, anything that will appeal to or better integrate the greater undergraduate community?

A: Economics is a diverse discipline, with analysis in areas such as healthcare, finance, law, history, crime, entrepreneurship, trade, education, unemployment, taxation and others. Students who major in economics have a variety of career goals, so our course offerings strive to give students options to pursue courses related to their interests. Students desire careers in consulting, law healthcare, finance, research, entrepreneurship and others. Thus, we see concentrations as a way to guide students along the track that fits their career goals. Future concentrations in areas such as law/public policy and business are possible. In the meantime, we provide students with a list of courses that fit with their career goals.