Economics is a staple at Tufts, a common major at a highly-ranked liberal arts school. In fact, it is one of the top five majors in the School of Arts and Sciences. Undoubtedly, foundational knowledge of the subject is important and transferrable to a variety of career paths. However, the introductory economics course sequence at Tufts does not provide the best possible path to future success for potential economics majors.
Tufts students who choose to major or minor in economics are required to take an introductory course — either EC 5 or EC 8. Many students choose to take EC 5, Principles of Economics. The course description states that EC 5 is an “introduction to the fundamentals of microeconomic and macroeconomic analysis.” Though students must have a grasp on such fundamentals in order to continue onto more advanced courses, EC 5 does not do enough to prepare students for success in this realm.
Covering both microeconomic and macroeconomic principles in a one-semester course is inherently risky, as it does not budget adequate time to each broad subfield. It is challenging to develop a high enough competency in both microeconomics and macroeconomics to match EC 5’s course description. One half of the course is dedicated to microeconomics and the other half to macroeconomics, but achieving the same level of mastery in both domains does not necessarily take the same amount of time, nor can it easily be achieved within a single semester.
The backgrounds of EC 5 students are also typically diverse. Students who scored a 5 on either the Advanced Placement Microeconomics or Macroeconomics exam in high school are required to enroll in EC 5. Only students who took both of these exams and scored a 5 on each can place out of EC 5. Thus, the students enrolled in EC 5 can either have no prior economic experience or be familiar with either macroeconomic or microeconomic theory, but not both. Needless to say, it is difficult to implement a single standard for all students in the class, and many students are ultimately left struggling as their classmates move ahead.
In addition, the sheer number of students in the class (over 150 students enrolled for the spring and nearly 300 students in the course this semester) makes it difficult for individualized instruction to take place. As students with differing levels of experience with economics are in the same classroom, the instructor is forced to cater to one generic level of knowledge. As a result, the instructor’s pace is rendered ineffective for the entire class; students with a strong background are unchallenged, and students who lack experience are overwhelmed. Students in EC 5 are required to enroll in recitation sections of up to 25 people each, but similar issues may arise when students do not regularly attend their recitation or if teaching assistants leading the recitations cannot cater to the diverse academic backgrounds of their students.
Many of Tufts’ peer schools with economics programs have two separate introductory courses. Schools such as Colby College, Bates College, Middlebury College, Harvard University and Northwestern University all separate their introductory economics coursework into two separate courses, each focused on either microeconomics or macroeconomics. This course structure will be viable at Tufts. With two separate courses, students will be much better prepared for their future coursework in Intermediate Microeconomic and Macroeconomic Theory. This addition will not extend the economics major requirements unreasonably. The major currently requires 11 courses, and expanding it to 12 would still be within the standard range of major coursework at Tufts.
An argument can be made to continue offering EC 5 at Tufts. Many students who enroll in the course are not necessarily looking to pursue a major, minor or career of any sort in economics, but instead wish to gain fundamental knowledge on the topic for self-enrichment. EC 5 could also cater to international relations majors, for whom a broad understanding of economic principles would be necessary. Such students should be encouraged to take EC 5 and gain background knowledge on an area of study highly applicable to many aspects of life. Separating economics majors from students in EC 5 would also allow for the course to proceed at a more standardized pace.
By requiring economics majors to take introductory microeconomics and macroeconomics as two separate courses, Tufts will ensure success in multiple ways. Economics majors will be more prepared for future coursework in the major. Students who wish to learn the foundations of economics without necessarily pursuing further study in the subject will be able to do so in a more focused environment. Overall, students will be distributed among introductory economics courses in a way that will allow them to learn alongside students comparable to themselves.