Carnegie Mellon University


March 22, 2019

Undergraduate Economics Receives STEM Designation

The Bachelor of Science in Economics and Bachelor of Arts in Economics degree programs at Carnegie Mellon University have received the U.S. Department of Education STEM designation. They join the interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science in Economics and Mathematical Sciences and Bachelor of Science in Economics and Statistics degrees in economics STEM offerings at Carnegie Mellon.

In addition to acknowledging the quantitative analytical foundations of the degree programs, the change permits international students studying in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa to remain in the country longer following graduation. F-1 visa students are permitted to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months under an “optional practical training” period so that they can get career training in their academic field. Students graduating from STEM-designated programs may apply for an extension of up to two additional years before they are required to find an employer to sponsor an H-1B visa.

In addition, the STEM designation allows students in the economics programs — international and domestic — to apply for publicly and privately funded fellowships, scholarships, and grants that are only open to students studying or who have studied in STEM fields.

“To stay competitive in the global economy, the U.S. needs to attract and retain skilled workers from around the world,” said Sevin Yeltekin, Professor of Economics and Senior Associate Dean of Education. “By making it easier for our economics students to complete their education and gain experience in their field after graduation, Carnegie Mellon is helping to build that workforce.” 

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, only 65,000 H-1B work visas may be issued each year for jobs requiring a high level of specialized knowledge. In order to qualify, noncitizens seeking to work in the U.S. must have an employer sponsor who will file necessary applications with the Department of Labor.

In recent years, economics programs across the U.S. have been seeking STEM designations in order to attract more international applicants. Forbes reported in 2016 that 40 percent of international students in the U.S. were enrolled in STEM programs. 

Traditionally, economics study has been considered a social science, with broad curricula covering economic theory and public policy in addition to statistical analytical techniques. The new designation changes the federal Classification of Instructional Programs code for CMU’s undergraduate economics programs from “general economics” to “econometrics and quantitative economics.” Such programs are defined as, “A program that focuses on the systematic study of mathematical and statistical analysis of economic phenomena and problems. Includes instruction in economic statistics, optimization theory, cost/benefit analysis, price theory, economic modeling, and economic forecasting and evaluation.”

“Carnegie Mellon’s economics program already has a strong emphasis on quantitative study,” said Christopher Sleet, Professor of Economics and Head of Economics. “A STEM certification allows us to leverage that strength to attract students who want to build a rich skill set that blends economics and data science, which they can take and apply to a wide range of academic or professional paths.”

The certification also allows current economics students to apply for scholarships designated for STEM students. 

Carol Goldburg, Executive Director of the Undergraduate Economics Program, stresses that the new classification does not mean the programs will eliminate the more sociological and behavioral aspects of the curriculum. “The political, organizational, and historical context is critical for understanding how economic decisions impact business and society,” she said. “This designation simply recognizes Carnegie Mellon’s persistent strength in analytics, which carries through our comprehensive economics curriculum.”