Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The Status of Agricultural Economics Profession: Evidence from Graduate Education

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

The Status of Agricultural Economics Profession: Evidence from Graduate Education

Article excerpt

Presidential addresses are normally forwardlooking papers about the profession and where it is headed. It might be focused on the research agenda for the coming decade or the importance of connecting with the clientele base to assure that we are helping the public. It should bring insights into a topic that are not available through journal writings, maybe not as rigorous, but nonetheless thought-provoking and significant.

A fundamental factor shaping the future of our profession, as agricultural economists, is the structure of our Ph.D. programs. The Ph.D. is the "license" for an agricultural economist. It implies that the individual has a certain skill set that allows analysis that is scientific, rigorous, thorough, and insightful. This paper looks at the present structure of agricultural economics Ph.D. programs and how they have changed in recent years.

Ph.D. programs are a shared activity in that presumably all faculty members assist in their development, administration, and implementation. These programs have not only been passed by the departments, but have also survived the scrutiny of faculty members and administrators outside the department. Thus, there is normally quite a bit of thought, logic, and justification involved in their structure. These programs should reflect a shared vision of what is needed to be a full-fledged agricultural economist.

A crucial part of the Ph.D. program is the dissertation; it is probably the most important part. Yet I will not talk about the dissertation, but will instead focus on all the requirements that a student must meet before embarking on the dissertation. The predissertation requirements are what make a United States Ph.D. distinct from the Ph.D. from other countries.

Agricultural economics is an application of economics to agriculture, food, and natural resources; our root discipline is economics, so we must be quite cognizant of the expectations for a Ph.D. in economics. Our Ph.D. students normally take many courses taught in economics and our graduates compete with economics Ph.D. graduates on the job market. As the economics profession changes, agricultural economics usually changes too. So let's begin by looking at economics education.

Pressures to Change Economics Education at the Ph.D. Level

The last significant investigation of graduate programs in economics came from the Commission on Graduate Education in Economics in the late 1980s and early 1990s (their report was released in January 1991). That Commission, appointed by the President of the American Economic Association, stemmed from a National Sciences Foundation-sponsored symposium that focused on how economic education was too distant from real world problems. Hence, a Commission was formed that was chaired by Anne Krueger. The major findings of the Commission are presented by Krueger (1991) in an article in the Journal of Economic Literature. Many of the findings will sound familiar to you.

The Commission found that nonacademic employers of economists were dissatisfied with the training of their new Ph.D. hires. Economics Ph.D. programs, especially the core courses in macroeconomics and microeconomics, were too concerned with tools and theory; there was little in their programs dealing with creativity and problem-solving. Thus, there was no linkage between the theory and tools and the real world. Lee Hansen (1991), the Executive Secretary of the Commission, who had an article in the same issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, said that there was too much formalism and technique to the exclusion of studying real world problems. These structural deficiencies in economics programs were exacerbated because there was little diversity among the top Ph.D. -granting schools. All of them had uniform offerings and little differentiation.

The Commission was concerned with the ratcheting up of mathematical requirements: "as each successive generation of economists becomes more skilled at mathematics, each demands more of the next" and programs "might teach the language of mathematics but not the logic of economics, and end up valuing the grammar of the discipline, rather than its substance" (Krueger, 1991, p. …

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