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UCLA reclassifies economics, business economics majors as STEM majors


According to an email sent to students last week from the department of economics' undergraduate counselors, economics and business economics have been reclassified as STEM majors. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)


This post was updated Nov. 7 at 12:20 a.m.

Economics has arrived to South Campus.

Economics and business economics majors have been reclassified as STEM majors, according to an email sent to students Oct. 31 from the department of economics’ undergraduate counselors.

The change is effective for students with a degree expected this fall or later and does not apply retroactively, the email stated.

Both economics and business economics have been reclassified as STEM programs because of a recent change of the majors’ Classification of Instructional Programs codes.

CIP codes, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics website, are used to classify and track programs of studyin educational institutions across the United States.

Business economics’ previous code, titled “Business/Managerial Economics,” describes an academic program that applies economic concepts to the functions of businesses, according to the NCES.

Conversely, economics’ prior code, titled “Economics, General,” was defined as a general program centered on resource allocation, the NCES stated.

Both programs now share a new CIP code, titled “Econometrics and Quantitative Economics.” The new code delineates a program that uses mathematics and statistics to study economics, according to the NCES, thus rendering both majors as STEM.

For international students, the change in classification would allow students currently on nonimmigrant F-1 visas to extend their stay in the United States for up to two extra years since the new code appears on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s STEM Designated Degree Program list.

Typically, students on nonimmigrant F-1 visas can only stay for up to one year following graduation. However, students earning STEM degrees are eligible to extend this period, known as Optional Practical Training, by two more years.

As a result, the classification change would enable students to stay for a possible three years after graduation.

Dora Costa, chair of UCLA’s economics department, said the reclassification stemmed from the increasingly mathematical nature of economics. Subsects of the field, even economics history, can prove to be highly quantitative in nature, she said.

“Students need a good grasp of statistical methods to grasp (economics’) quantitative nature,” Costa said.

Economics’ evolution from an originally pure social science to one more oriented with statistics and mathematics is two-pronged, she said.

“One is that there is greater availability of data and (we are) getting bigger data sets, which raises issues in how data should be analyzed,” Costa said.

Secondly, economics experts and academics have been employing more mathematical models, Costa added.

“As we get new mathematical tools, we are able to do new things (within economics),” she said. “It’s part of the natural progression of the field.”

Costa submitted a proposal for the change to the Faculty Executive Committee, which evaluates and approves changes to academic programs in the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences, in September.

According to the proposal, the economics department voted unanimously in favor of allowing the chair to seek STEM certification for both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

The proposal also said the CIP code change was needed because of the mathematically intensive nature of pre-major requirements, such as Economics 41: “Statistics for Economists” and Economics 11: “Microeconomic Theory” and data-oriented upper-division classes like Economics 103: “Introduction to Econometrics” and Economics 103L: “Econometrics Laboratory.”

The CIP code change will also be more consistent with the classification of economics programs at other University of California campuses. According to the proposal, programs at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz have all recently changed the CIP codes of their economics majors to the code signifying Econometrics and Quantitative Economics.

“The whole department feels that this was the appropriate thing to do,” Costa said.

Some students said they think the requirements of the majors are sufficient to call them STEM degrees.

Kristine Carrillo, a second-year pre-business economics student, said at first the reclassification was confusing as economics focuses on human-centered processes rather than scientific ones.

“Economics deals with decisions that you make and how certain decisions that you make … affect the lives of people,” Carrillo said. “It is very humanitarian in its motivation.”

However, after seeing the math-intensive nature of her business economics classes, Carrillo said the reclassification makes sense.

“These classes are hard,” she said. “And you have to work really hard if you want to do really well. … The classification is right, it is slightly justified, but it’s also necessary because now (students) get to know what they’re getting themselves into.”

Although the classification code has been changed, economics and business economics students will still receive Bachelor of Arts degrees, the email stated.

Scott Klaus, a third-year economics student, said the economics program is still highly mathematical regardless of whether it is classified as an arts degree.

“My opinion (is) no matter what they want to call it, it’s still heavily math-based and that’s really not going to change,” Klaus said. “Everything’s basically still the same.”

Klaus added he thinks economics will still be considered a North Campus degree despite its STEM-related requirements.

“I kind of think most South Campus people that aren’t (economics) majors haven’t really taken classes like (Economics) 11, 41, 101 or 103,” Klaus said. “I’m in 101 right now and I haven’t really taken 102 or 103, but I can assume that they’re also heavily math-based like the previous classes I’ve taken.”

Carrillo said it’s odd to think of herself as a STEM student since she’s never considered herself as one.

“It’s interesting that it’s kind of my classification now,” she said.

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