Whether the trend could be due to the state of the United States’ economy or increasing demand from employers, the University of Wisconsin experienced a major surge in students graduating with economics majors in the last six years.
From the 2006-2007 academic year to the 2012-2013 academic year, the number of economics majors went from around 300 to upwards of 960, according to UW Economics Department Chair John Karl Scholz.
This recent increase in students studying economics boosted the major into the top five most popular majors on campus. Economics is now ranked only behind biology majors, as measured by bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2011-12, according to a UW statement.
Scholz cited the weak economy, a high-quality program, the personnel and course offerings of the program and the organizations available to economics students as possible reasons for the sudden hike in economics majors on campus.
He said students are more pragmatic about their choice of major because of the weaker economy and a strong economics department provides a wealth of opportunities to students.
“We have a tremendous team in our advising and career office,” Scholz said. “We have really outstanding people that not only give good advice but care about the students they work with.”
Scholz said he thinks the Economics Department is doing a good job ensuring the right instructors are teaching relevant courses. It takes a certain temperament to be able to teach a 400-person course, he said. He also said students typically find their major intellectually engaging as long as the department delivers effective courses well.
The economics student organizations also likely contributed to the increase in majors, according to Scholz. Currently, there are more than 100 students paying dues to organizations that provide career programming and networking to majors, he said.
“I think it’s great because it brings economics outside of the classroom,” Scholz said.
Eric Nycklemoe, a UW senior studying economics and geography, said the major is ideal for students who are interested in business, but do not want to be pigeonholed into a specific field. He added he decided to major in economics because knowledge of how the economy works is applicable to a wide variety of career paths.
“The difference is that with an economics major, pretty much any job field is available to you,” Nycklemoe said. “When you do something like finance or marketing, your options are a lot more narrow.”
Scholz noted UW students with degrees in economics take career paths ranging from traditional business, law school, urban planning and even the Peace Corps.
While Nycklemoe suggested some students choose to study economics as a back-up plan in case they are not accepted into the Business School, Grainger School of Business Dean François Ortalo-Magné said that is not the case.
“There’s an excess demand for business programs,” he said, noting a generally increasing demand for business education. “I don’t think the increase for economics major has affected us in any way.”
Ortalo-Magné said the increase in economics majors is directly a by-product of great leadership and the quality of the economic program at Wisconsin.