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Educating Economists

The Teagle Discussion on Re-evaluating the Undergraduate Economics Major

Edited by David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick

The economics major is a central part of a college education. But is that economics major doing what it is meant to do? And if not, how should it be changed? This book raises a set of provocative questions that encourage readers to look at the economics major in a different light than it is typically considered and provides a series of recommendations for change.
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Chapter 19: Overstating the Challenges, Underestimating the Solutions

George Daly


George Daly From my perspective – that of an economist/administrator – Colander and McGoldrick’s Teagle Report has two principal themes. The first is that there are important flaws in the training provided for economics (and other) majors at many US universities. The second is that the best way to correct this problem is through the recognition and discussion of these problems among faculty members through what the authors term a “bottom up” process. I believe their paper raises important issues and does so in interesting ways. My chief criticism is that, having identified a problem, it tends to misjudge both its seriousness and the ease and appropriate methods of correcting it. THE PROBLEM The authors see the training of economics undergraduate majors in US universities as unduly narrow and technical. This is due to an agency problem in which the faculty pursues objectives that are inappropriate to the great majority of the students they teach. Specifically, faculty members want to teach cutting-edge research topics consistent with what they view as the tastes of their professional peers. Reflecting this, the economics curriculum fails to achieve the broad, liberal learning goals the authors see as the major purpose of undergraduate education. Instead, economics majors are often taught a curriculum designed as if most students were desirous of going on to graduate school in economics when, in fact, the vast majority of these students will pursue other career paths for which broad liberal arts training would better prepare them. While I believe that such an...

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