Courses and Requirements
Why Study Economics?
Economics is an integral part of a well-rounded liberal arts education. Recent surveys of liberal arts colleges and universities indicate that economics continues to rank among the most popular majors chosen by undergraduates, and the majority of students enroll in introductory courses in economics during their undergraduate careers.
Given the impact of economic forces on our daily lives, the strong interest in economics is understandable. Completion of introductory courses in economics provides individuals with a logical and consistent framework for understanding such basic concepts as inflation, the function of money, and budget deficits. By acquiring a basic knowledge of economic analysis, students who take economics courses are better able to think critically about policy proposals that emerge from Washington and are debated in the mass media. In addition, students gain a working knowledge of how the economy operates and adjusts to changing conditions.
Taking economics courses, however, provides more than mere insights into the functioning of economies. Economics is a field of growing importance as preparation for both a variety of careers and programs of advanced study. The discipline occupies a strategic place among the social sciences, and is important to the study of the humanities as well. An understanding of economics is relevant to advanced study in such fields as history, political science, sociology, geography, and anthropology. Since economic institutions are an important element of any larger social or political system, and since major social and political changes are often influenced by economic forces, an understanding of economics is important for mastery of these related disciplines.
Many careers which require the understanding and analysis of contemporary events will also be enhanced by the study of economics. These include such professions as law, journalism, public policy, diplomacy, education, environmental science, medical administration, and international affairs. Economics provides a better understanding of the economic and public policy environment in which virtually every profession will be pursued. Hence, economics courses should be an integral part of any undergraduate course of study.
Sampling the Discipline: An Introduction to Economics
The purpose of a liberal arts education is to provide students with the skill to critically evaluate a wide variety of situations. Economics is definitely a discipline that enhances one’s undergraduate education, as it focuses on issues that affect everyone on a daily basis. Economists address the following questions in their work: What is the return an individual can expect from attending college? How will proposed health care reforms affect U.S. economic performance? How does immigration affect the U.S. economy? What long-term consequences might result from persistent trade deficits? What effects, if any, will the current budget deficits have on the future growth of the American economy and the economic well-being of its citizens? Clearly, these issues are of interest to everyone, not just economists. The introductory courses in economics use the principles of economic analysis to provide students with a better understanding of these and other “economic problems.” Whether one is interested in biochemistry, art history, or business, the introductory courses in economics provide students with a level of economic literacy sufficient to understand how the economy operates as well as how government policies affect the performance of the economy.
In addition to increasing one’s understanding of how economies function, many students find that training received in the introductory courses provides insights into other disciplines. Students studying the transition of Russia and the republics from communism to democracy find economic analysis particularly useful in understanding the difficulties experienced by the Russian people as they move from state-controlled markets to “free markets.” Individuals with an interest in environmental studies apply economic analysis to problems such as optimal pollution control policies.
In fact, students in a wide variety of disciplines find the knowledge gained in the introductory economics courses highly valuable, and frequently inquire about additional course work in economics. Many students select intermediate-level courses in the Economics Department that match their interests. International Trade and the World Financial System (Econ 248) is an extremely popular course among political science and international studies majors. Students interested in careers in medicine frequently choose to take The Political Economy of Health Care (Econ 220), and students interested in the physical sciences often take Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (Econ 267).
All students can benefit from exposure to economics and are therefore encouraged to take advantage of the wide variety of course offerings available within the department. Finally, economics courses offer students the opportunity to develop the analytical and quantitative skills that virtually all employers value.
So You Want More Economics?
Many students will want to continue their course work in economics beyond the introductory level. A sizable fraction will go on to major in Economics. Current requirements for the major may be found on this website or in the Vassar College Catalogue. Other students decide instead to pursue a correlate (or minor) in economics. The Economics Department currently offers three correlate sequences. Descriptions of the correlate sequences, and their requirements, can be found on this website, in the catalogue, or obtained from the Economics Department Office in 129 Blodgett Hall.
The full range of courses offered within the Economics Department can be found in the Vassar College Catalogue. Courses are organized by level (e.g., 100–level, 200–level, and 300–level). Most fields of economics, such as labor economics and international economics, offer electives at both the 200–level and the 300–level.
Opportunities for Research in Economics
In addition to teaching, economics faculty members are actively engaged in academic research, investigating topics on the frontier of economic analysis.
Often, there are opportunities for students to work closely with department faculty on research projects. In the summer, department faculty sometimes work directly with students under the auspices of various grant programs. During the academic year, some students work as faculty research assistants, gaining hands-on experience in conducting economic research. Occasionally, students co-author academic articles with departmental faculty. Students may also choose to write a senior thesis in an area related to a faculty member’s research interests, leading to formal guidance through an entire research project. Writing a senior thesis gives students the opportunity to apply theories and techniques learned in the classroom to current economic issues and problems—an experience many students find to be challenging and rewarding. For economics majors, these research opportunities provide valuable exposure to the type of research conducted in economic consulting firms, graduate schools, and many government organizations.
If you are interested in investigating a particular topic or economic issue further, the Economics Department provides several options. Many students design a program of independent study supervised by a faculty member with research interests and expertise in that area. Students interested in pursuing this option can register for Independent Work (Econ 298) or Senior Independent Work (Econ 399) and make arrangements with a faculty member to supervise the work. In addition, students can meet with faculty working in an area that interests them and explore the possibilities for collaborative research. Faculty welcome student interest and involvement in their ongoing research and are happy to meet with students who want to get involved in economic research on a particular issue.
Courses and Requirements
Academic requirements and courses are available in the Vassar College Catalogue.