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Economics Will Become STEM Major to Help International Students

In four months, the Haverford economics department may shift to being classified as a STEM department by the federal government. If successful, this change, while seeming like a meaningless quibble over labels, would represent significant progress for economic majors from foreign countries. 

The root of this lies in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) program. Introduced in 2008, STEM OPT originally allowed foreign students on student visas who had either majored or graduated with a degree in a department that the federal government had designated as STEM to apply for a 17-month visa extension for practical training, in addition to the 12-month extension open to all students. In 2016, this was expanded to 24 months, a somewhat controversial move that allowed for more time in graduate school and experience working. 

According to Professor Giri Parameswaran of the Economics Department, the government decides which departments fall under the category of ‘STEM’ based on a six-digit code, called a Classification of Instructional Program code (CIP), assigned to a department by the Department of Education, which codes for a certain type of program. Haverford’s economics department’s current CIP code is 45.0601, the code for an “Economics, General” program—not a STEM one. 

This type of program focuses on societal structures and a conceptual understanding of economic systems. Haverford’s CIP code was assigned in 1980, however. Besides the fact that the CIP classification didn’t have as much of an impact on students then, the economics department has significantly changed.  “Over the years,” Economics Professor Anne Preston said, “the economics department has become more and more mathematical.”

Economics professors argue that the department should instead be classified as an “’Econometrics and Quantitative Economics” program, which, unlike the current designation, does fall under the list of CIP codes that the Department of Education deems to be in a STEM field. In comparison to “General Economics”, “Econometrics” (code 45.0603) focuses much more on economics statistics and statistical analysis of economic mathematical models, and, according to economics professors, better describes Haverford’s economic major as it is now. 

In the memo sent by Parameswaran on behalf of the economics department, he outlined the math-intensive curriculum, which requires students to work with highly technical mathematical models as early as the first introductory class, and in later courses teaches programming and optimization theorems. One of the mandatory courses for the major is Statistical Methods and Economics, which even has two lab hours a week. Another one of the major courses is Introduction to Econometrics, which, according to its description in the course catalog, covers “ordinary least squares estimation, weighted least squares estimation, estimation of models with nonlinear forms, instrumental variables, and maximum likelihood estimation”, among other things.

As with all departments, the economics department underwent an external review in spring 2020, during which, Preston says, “the reviewers told us that our program is more quantitative and mathematical than most because we require a calculus-based curriculum in our intermediate courses, we require econometrics, and we require a senior thesis.” 

On May 5, 2021, the economics department held a meeting and came to an agreement that the economics professors should lobby to have the CIP code changed to better reflect the program. In order to do this, Parameswaran wrote to Registrar Jim Keane on May 10 recommending, on behalf of the department, that Haverford change the CIP code to 45.0603. As of the fall 2021 semester, the college appears to have accepted the recommendation. Haverford will report the new economics classification, along with all other classifications, to the Department of Education in January 2022. 

Even if the DOE challenges the change, it will likely do so by requesting proof that the economics department has enough math to fall under STEM, which the department currently believes it has.  

If it doesn’t challenge the code—and both Preston and Parameswaran believe it will not, based on other cases of schools changing their codes in this way—then the change will go into effect in February or March next year, in time for graduating international students majoring or minoring in economics to apply for the STEM OPT visa extension. 

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