Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

A Comparison of Principles of Economics Curriculum across U.S. Colleges and Universities

Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

A Comparison of Principles of Economics Curriculum across U.S. Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt


This paper provides a comparison of how introductory - or principles - economics courses are offered across colleges and universities. Using 2015-16 undergraduate academic catalogues for each of the schools listed in the Princeton Review's The Best 380 Colleges 2016 Edition, the paper answers the following questions:

· How many schools offer one combined principles of economics course versus two separate courses for microeconomics (micro) and macroeconomics (macro)?

· Of those schools offering separate micro and macro courses, how many require that micro be taken prior to macro, or vice versa?

· How common are math prerequisites for principles courses, and what level of preparation is required?

· How does curriculum differ by type of school (e.g., public vs. private, large vs. small)?

The purpose of this article is to provide business and economics faculty in four-year institutions with data on the economics principles curriculum of other schools, which may be useful for future curriculum decisions made by the readers' institutions.

Previous Literature on Inter-Institutional Comparisons of Economics Curriculum

Within economics, some previous work has been done comparing the degree requirements of bachelor's degree programs, most notably by economist John Siegfried. Siegfried and Wilkinson (1982) provided a survey of the major requirements for undergraduate economics majors for the 1980 academic year. In addition to providing a baseline for future studies, thereby allow for comparisons over time, the study was noteworthy in its finding that there was little difference in the economics curriculum between those economics programs housed in a business school versus those residing in a liberal arts school. The most notable difference was that business schools were much more likely to require students complete an accounting course.

Bosshardt, Watts and Becker (2013) and Siegfried and Walstad (2014) have provided more recent updates to the earlier works by Siegfried and Wilkinson (1982) and Siegfried and Bidani (1992). These more recent studies show the trend over the past few decades being one of an increasing quantification of economics major requirements. Economics degree programs are requiring more econometrics and mathematics and less economic history and economic thought than they were 30 years ago. Regardless of the academic merits of this switch, it does have the effect of giving the typical economics degree holder a signal of high quantitative ability to take to the labour market with him/her after graduation. It also means that principles courses are more likely to maintain a quantitative bent given that they are prerequisites to the upper-level courses.

It should be noted that the aforementioned studies comparing curriculum across institutions relied on department chairs or school deans to fill out a survey sent by the authors, which of course raises issues of sample response bias. That sampling method is different than that used in this paper, which was to manually analyse the academic catalogues of all of the institutions in the population chosen (Princeton Review schools). The response rate in Siegfried and Walstad (2014) was 43 percent (337 out of 784), but the authors point out that the response rate was higher for larger public universities.

Siegfried and Walstad (2014) does provide some data on principles courses similar to this paper. The results are roughly similar. But that study differs from this one in a few notable ways:

(1) This study is more up-to-date (2015-16 academic year instead of 2012-13).

(2) This study provides data on the frequency with which institutions impose mathematics prerequisites on enrolment in principles courses; Siegfried and Walstad (2014) does not.

(3) This study does not rely on department responses and is instead a full census of all schools in the Princeton Review's list with curriculum information manually researched using publicly available academic catalogues instead of relying on survey responses by institutions. …

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