Diversifying the Economists: Pipeline Program Hopes Exposure to Economics Will Help Boost the Abysmally Low Numbers of Minority Faculty in the Discipline

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WITH A FLAIR FOR MATH, JANELLE JONES WON a NASA scholarship to Spelman College. Though the Lorain, Ohio native had initial expectations of becoming a mathematician, Jones later found that studying economics proved a more compelling intellectual pursuit. Graduating this past spring from the historically Black women's college in Atlanta, Jones completed a bachelor's degree in math with a minor in economics. She plans to enroll at The Ohio State University this fall to pursue a doctorate in economics.

"Mathematics is pretty abstract and doesn't always apply to the real world. I like economics because I can apply it to social problems," Jones says.

This summer, Jones is proving she has the mental discipline and talent, reinforced by her math background, to master graduate-level courses in economics. She is one of 45 students enrolled in the American Economists Association's summer and minority scholarship program at Duke University. An academic pipeline program that's been in operation for 33 years, the eight-week summer experience prepares its participants for the rigors of first--and second-year study in master's and doctorate programs in economics.

The program also plays host to the AEA's annual pipeline conference. Held in July, the conference brings together current and former program participants, professional economists who volunteer as mentors and graduate economics students who present research papers. According to Dr. William Rogers, director of the pipeline conference project, approximately 100 people are expected to attend the 2006 conference.

"The conference, along with the summer program, serves to demystify for the students what academic economists do" he says.

It is estimated that 841 students have participated in the summer program, which migrates to a new campus home every few years. While few student tracking records exist from the early years of the program, Dr. Charles M. Becker, director of the AEA summer program, says out of the 133 students that have been participants between 2001 and 2005, 61 will have entered Ph.D. programs as of fall 2006. An additional 17 students in the 2001 to 2005 cohort are expected to eventually enter Ph.D. programs, he adds. Since 2001, Becker has directed the program and he presided over its move from the University of Colorado at Denver to Duke during the fall of 2003. North Carolina A&T State University is a partner institution in the program as well.

While the summer program and pipeline conference are open to students of all races and ethnicities, the combined AEA efforts have been and remain the only pipeline development program for underrepresented minorities chasing a doctorate in economics. Supporters of the organizations say that the summer program and conference effectively helps students navigate the transition from undergraduate to graduate school. But they point out that such a pipeline is still necessary because economics, at least in comparison to other social sciences, remains the least inclusive of Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians.

Over the past year, published reports focused on Black representation have pointed out that economics departments at U.S. colleges and universities have embarrassingly low numbers of Blacks employed as full-time professors. Research by Jackson State University economist Dr. Gregory Price revealed earlier this year that out of the 2,785 faculty at the 106 doctoral-granting economics departments, only 40, or 1.4 percent, are Black. In seven Southern states, 11 schools that have doctoral-granting economics departments, including the University of Virginia and the University of Georgia, have never hired a Black economics faculty member, according to Price.

"I think it's true that top institutions are not hiring minorities in the way you would expect them to," Becker contends.

"[The economics profession] has a big problem in relation to where it is to the other social sciences," says Dr. …