University News

Econ department adds new math requirements

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The economics department has expanded its concentration requirements to include additional calculus and econometrics classes, boosting the concentration’s number of required courses from 10 to 11. The changes will affect economics concentrators in the class of 2016 and beyond. 

The requirements had previously included one semester of calculus, to be taken in the mathematics department, and nine courses in the economics department, including one introductory econometrics class. The new requirements have made it necessary for students to complete 11 courses, including two econometrics courses among the 10 total economics classes and one calculus course. 

Placement procedures have also changed to require students who test out of ECON 0110: “Principles of Economics” through Advanced Placement exams to replace the introductory course with a more advanced one.

Reasons provided for the expanded curriculum varied, but professors in the department attributed the changes to ongoing advances in the field. Roberto Serrano, professor of economics and chair of the department, said the discipline has become “more technical” and has experienced an increased “emphasis on empirical analysis.” 

In an age where individuals have access to more information than ever before, students must be prepared to understand, analyze and “critically assess” available data, said Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Policy Anna Aizer, who teaches the new ECON 1629: “Applied Research Methods for Economists,” one of the options for the newly required second econometrics class.

The changes had been under discussion for several years, said Director of Undergraduate Studies Louis Putterman, and the additions were due to an “accumulation of factors.” He cited faculty complaints that some students’ lack of preparation in calculus inhibited their understanding of microeconomic models, as well as feedback from recent graduates who felt that “a number of courses had been dumbed down.” 

Faculty members and graduates alike said they also felt the curriculum was not rigorous enough and that the relatively small number of requirements led some students to tack on economics as a second concentration.

Compared to other universities, Brown does not have fewer requirements for an economics degree, but its math and statistics course requirements were “on the lower end,” Serrano said. “Harvard and Williams still have the same number of courses that we used to have,” Serrano added. 

Putterman said the department wanted to “negotiate a compromise” to make Brown “a little less laid-back than before but not trying to catch up to the most structured.” For the department, it was still a priority for the requirements to remain open enough that students could continue to take advantage of the University’s liberal education, he said.

Faculty members said the new math and econometrics requirements would better prepare students both for more advanced economics courses and for their eventual careers. David Glick PhD’18, an economics graduate student and currently an ECON 1110: “Microeconomics” teaching assistant, said calculus is “essential” in required economics classes where students have to “understand the effect of one variable on another.”

A stronger mathematics foundation will allow students to delve deeper into more advanced seminars, Aizer said, because professors of seminars on topics such as health or growth economics will no longer have to take up valuable time in the beginning of the term teaching econometrics.

“The more comfortable they are with the math, the more comfortable they’ll be with the economics,” she added. 

Current economics concentrators expressed mixed responses to the new changes to the curriculum. Philip Trammell ’15 said the department “used to require next to nothing.” 

He urged the department to go even further, comparing Brown to the University of Chicago, where “economics is almost like physics” and requires significant math and statistics coursework. 

The new changes could “push some people into (the Business, Entrepreneurship and Organization concentration) and leave the economics degree for people who are more interested in economics,” Trammell said. 

Justina Lee ’15, a double concentrator in visual arts and economics, expressed the opposite opinion. 

“I’m really glad I’m not a freshman this year,” she said, since the new changes to the concentration will not apply to her. Lee said she chose economics partly because the relatively small number of classes will allow her to complete a second concentration. 

Some first-years did not seem concerned about the new requirements. 

“It doesn’t seem too drastic of a change,” said Elise Rivas ’16, adding that the new requirements would be “more comprehensive and more applicable to a career.” 


  1. To all the first years who don’t think it’s that big of a deal, they clearly haven’t taken Intro Econometrics. And how about the department start caring about undergrads a little more rather than trying to reduce their numbers with more requirements?

  2. As a first year, I have to plead blissful ignorance. I am sure the changes are for the betterment of my future Economics education. However, I am interested in the subject despite my lack of math avidity. It is disappointing that there is not an option for people like me. If one enjoys the math side and not the theory I presume they would pursue the Applied Mathematics route, anyways.

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