Saturday, February 22

Avvalzameer Bhatia: UCLA should classify economics as a science program, not an arts one

(Lexi Sanchez/Daily Bruin)

UCLA seems to believe that taking cumbersome calculus- and statistics-based classes every quarter qualifies as an arts degree.

Economics and business economics are considered Bachelor of Arts degree programs, even though the two majors put a heavy emphasis on mathematics. While this may not seem a dire circumstance, it is quite problematic for international students’ employment options.

After graduation, international students enrolled in STEM degree programs can choose to work in the U.S. for three years for optional practical training. Non-STEM students can only work for one year. Because economics degrees are considered art majors, students in the economics department are currently not eligible for the STEM work authorization extension of two years.

In response, a group of international upperclassmen recently submitted a petition to request the department of economics to provide a Bachelors of Science degree for the major. The petition, which has 325 signatories as of Thursday, points out how the STEM classification would benefit international students and highlights how concepts taught in economics classes allow the major to qualify as a B.S. program.

The economics department needs to seriously consider this petition. By acknowledging students’ employment concerns and working with appropriate campus entities, such as the UCLA Academic Senate, to change the major’s qualifications, the department can notably improve students’ employment opportunities and futures after graduation.

The work visa afforded to non-STEM majors makes employers reluctant to hire qualified international economics students from UCLA because they don’t want to invest in hiring and training a candidate who will have to leave in one year. Many students believe that the additional 24 months of the OPT extension would give them sufficient time to undergo on-the-job training, encouraging employers to hire them and to even sponsor visas that allow them to stay in the country for full-time jobs.

Anisha Beria, a third-year business economics student and one of the petitioners, believes that allowing international economics students only one year of work experience in the U.S. hinders their ability to conduct in-depth research studies.

“Work in any quantitative domain requires a certain number of years to finish,” Beria said. “You can’t expect someone conducting economics research to finish their work in one year and leave.”

The hurdle to making the change to B.S. is the perception that the economics major isn’t a STEM program. Dora Costa, the chair of UCLA’s economics department, said she thinks the economics major would require curricular modifications to be considered STEM.

For a major to be considered STEM, it needs to fall under a certain classification of instructional program code, according to the United States Department of Education’s policies. Currently, UCLA designates its economics major as a general economics program, which the Department of Education defines as a program that focuses on “production, conservation and allocation of resources in conditions of scarcity.”

But the major includes enough quantitative material to qualify as a STEM major under the econometrics and quantitative economics category, a classification that applies to any program that “focuses on the systematic study of mathematical and statistical analysis of economic phenomena and problems.” Econometrics and quantitative economics programs are supposed to teach students about optimization theory, cost-benefit analysis, price theory and statistics, to name a few. These concepts are taught at UCLA in Economics 11, 101, 1 and 41, respectively, which are all required courses in the economics major.

Even if the university thinks the current economics major is not quantitative enough to meet this STEM requirement, the department of economics should still look into changing the major to qualify as a STEM program.

Several other top universities have already recognized economics as a STEM major. The list includes six out of the eight Ivy League universities, as well as the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pomona College and Williams College. Economics classes at UCLA teach similar, if not identical, material to the classes at all these colleges.

“Many of us had the opportunity to choose to go to other universities, but we chose to come to UCLA instead,” said Trishala Kulkarni, a fourth-year economics student and one of the petitioners. “We are as capable as economics students at other colleges, and so it is simply unfair to us that we do not enjoy the same benefits that they do.”

Some may argue that the economics major isn’t a STEM program because UCLA already offers a mathematics/economics program that gives students a B.S. degree. But the mathematics/economics major falls under the department of mathematics and stresses mathematical concepts that are most relevant in economics. The economics major, on the other hand, is far more focused on the application of mathematics in the business world and requires students to take more economics classes. This difference doesn’t disqualify economics from being a STEM program. Other universities don’t have that mindset, and UCLA shouldn’t either.

It is about time that UCLA starts considering economics a B.S. major to be fair to its students. While economics definitely has an art to it, any economics or business economics student would agree that what they study seems more like science than art.


Opinion columnist

Bhatia is an Opinion columnist.

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