In April 2014, the Graduate Program Committee of the Economics Department proposed a number of curricular changes to the MA in Applied Economics program. The modifications include:
- Introducing two new concentrations, Data Analytics and Policy Analysis, each with its own advanced theory requirement, capstone course, and well-defined plan of study
- Changing the format of the fall “core” courses from 8-week intensive study to more traditional 14-week classes
- Rearranging the sequence in which students take their research tools courses–Applied Policy Methods (ECO 731), Data Methods in Economics (ECO 725), and Empirical Microeconomics (ECO 721), and
- Integrating the use of SAS and its application in econometric research into the MA core.
In September 2014, the University Graduate Programs Committee at UNCG approved the proposed changes, which will become effective Spring 2015.
According to Ken Snowden, Director of Graduate Programs, these changes were motivated by a number of factors. “We’ve listened to feedback from students enrolled in the program and sought input from our alumni working in the field. Their suggestions were influential in the department’s decision to make changes to the MA.”
Under the newly revised programs, students will take Data Methods in Economics in their second semester in the program, rather than waiting for their final (fall) semester. Chris Swann, who teaches Data Methods, supported its move to the spring. Chris said, “ECO 725 is a course in which students get experience in carrying out projects using applied econometrics. They learn to code, clean data, run analyses, and interpret their results. All of these hands-on techniques are used by firms in banking and insurance, as well as firms performing price analysis, consumer behavior studies, and policy evaluation.
“Many alumni recommended moving ECO 725 to the spring semester, which would give students an edge when they’re competing for summer internships.”
The introduction of new concentrations arose in part from alumni recommendations and in part as a way of formalizing a pattern already established by students. According to Ken: “Over the years, we have found that students naturally migrate to one of two plans of study – one that emphasizes the application of microeconomic theory to specific fields and incorporates the assessment and evaluation of policy, and a second that emphasizes the use of a wide variety of statistical tools and methods.
“The new MA curriculum includes two options for concentrations within the degree. Students may now decide to concentrate on policy analysis or on data analytics, and their transcripts will formally reflect the concentration they adopted.
“The new Data Analytics concentration is very similar to the old financial economics concentration. The biggest differences are that students following the Data Analytics concentration are expected to take ECO 646 (Macroeconomics) as their advanced theory course and their capstone course will be the Predictive Data Mining (ECO 723) course.”
The new Policy Analysis concentration is designed to accommodate students who find applications of theory of greater interest. Students concentrating on Policy Analysis are expected to take ECO 642 (Microeconomics II) as their advanced theory course; their capstone course will be ECO 734, Public Policies toward Innovation and Sustainability.
“ECO 734 is a continuation of the Applied Policy Methods (ECO 731) course all of our MA students take,” according to Al Link. “The big difference between ECO 731 and ECO 734 is that the latter focuses on a particular field of policy, which allows us to compare the various initiatives proposed over the years and to see how policies evolve over time as the environment in which policies are implemented changes and the goals of decision-makers adapt to reflect those new conditions.”
“The new curriculum proposals are not as big a change as they might seem at first,” said Ken. “I’ve always advised students that they could choose to focus on tools or on policy. The concentrations simply make that choice a little more formal and allow the Department and the University to provide the student with written documentation—via the transcript—that he or she has been trained in one of these highly-marketable areas.”
The two new concentrations are available but not mandatory. Students who want to mix and match courses from the policy and tools areas to fit their own interests will still be able to do so and will receive the MA in Applied Economics with the default concentration “Applied Economics.”