According to a study released by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in mid-October, only 3.3 percent of colleges and universities in the United States require students to take an economics course. The study, entitled “What Will They Learn,” surveyed 1,098 colleges and universities throughout the country and graded them based on their core requirements in composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science.
The purpose of the annual A.C.T.A. study is to evaluate institutions of higher education to make sure they are doing an adequate job of preparing their students for life and careers beyond college. Only 2.1 percent of the surveyed schools received an A from the A.C.T.A., and 35.4 percent received a B. Fordham received a C on the report.
In order to prepare their students for post-college life, schools must adapt and modify their curricula to keep pace with the ever-changing environment around them. The world around us is getting smaller, and Americans are becoming increasingly more dependent on the actions and economic health of foreign countries and businesses. As this development continues, I believe it is important that students at American schools leave with an understanding of economics and how it affects them both professionally and personally.
Economics has long been pigeonholed as a dry, pedantic topic reserved for academics and those looking to work in the financial industry or for the government. The reality of the situation is that studying economics and the method of thinking that this study fosters can be applied to just about every situation in which you will find yourself.
“I do not necessarily think Fordham should make economics a requirement, but in general I think everybody should have knowledge of economic reasoning,” Patricia Fitzmaurice, a professor in the School of Professional and Continuing Studies and Fordham graduate, stated. “If everybody understood the concepts of opportunity cost, sunk cost, marginalism and cost benefit analysis people would make better, more informed decisions. I think that if everyone had some knowledge of economics it would make them more informed voters,” she said.
The impact of economics on daily life is undeniable. No matter what career path you decide to pursue after college you will be both a producer and a consumer — a supplier and a demander. The economic decisions of the officials you vote into office will have implications on your financial health, job security and home life. Whether you decide to work for an international corporation or start your own small business, you will be competing, potentially on a global scale, for a scarce amount of resources.
“The world economy is becoming more and more integrated and that is only going to move forward. Any grasp people have of that is only going to help. It can only benefit them in their day to day life and their decision making,” Fitzmaurice said. “People would make better career and life decisions if they had a concept of economic reasoning and the effects of globalization.”
Understanding the benefits versus the pitfalls of one course of action as opposed to another can be the difference between success and failure.
The problem with making economics a requirement is how to fit it into already demanding academic schedules and curriculums. College students nationwide are already required to take (dependant on their college and program) mathematics, English, foreign language, natural science and history. Fordham, having one of the more rigorous core curricula in the country, also requires its students to take theology and philosophy. On top of those courses students want to dedicate as much class time as possible toward their majors, minors and concentrations.
The majority of liberal arts programs require students to take a certain number of social science courses. These include economics, political science, anthropology and many other choices. Fordham College at Rose Hill requires students to take one class to fulfill the social science requirement. Students have 16 options for that class, two of which are basic microeconomics and basic macroeconomics.
Instituting an economics requirement means that something else needs to be either lessened or altogether removed. This puts both faculty and students in a difficult position. When taking these constraints into account, the question becomes: Is the study of economics important enough to replace other requirements? Samantha Nash, FCRH’15, does not believe so. She said, “I know that you have to take a social science for FCRH and economics is an option, so people can if they want to, but I don’t think it should be a requirement.” The argument can be made that economics is not important enough to pull a student away from a class that directly applies to their career choice. Nash, a psychology major and sociology minor, took microeconomics to fulfill her social science requirement, but did not enjoy it and did not see the value in making it a requirement for all students.
With time, the study of economics and economics knowledge will become increasingly important. Colleges and universities should consider a comprehensive course which would cover the very basic concepts of both macro and microeconomics over the course of a semester. The benefit to students will outweigh negative aspects of a shift in curriculum.