Good to Know: economics degree = empowerment

There is something about a dismal economy that makes people feel helpless, and not even smart enough to understand what is wrong.

“The average person on the street knows about Britney Spears and “Dancing With the Stars” but has very little grasp of the issues confronting the nation,” said Prof. Khalid Mehtabdin, a scholar of managerial economics who has taught at Saint Rose for 25 years. “But we want our students to have a grasp of what is serious and important, whether it is financial problems, mortgage problems, or budget deficits. They will be leaders in their own workplaces and will elect leaders who make the major economic decisions.”

A new degree, economics, in our new business school building

The College of Saint Rose has long given students a solid grounding in economics, offering courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics and the economics of management. Now, a 44-credit major and 18-credit minor significantly broaden the program to include public finance, sustainable economic development, the structure of American industry and international trade. Courses devoted to contemporary economic issues, banking and social economics are also expected to be offered.

“By having this major and all this knowledge on campus,” Mehtabdin noted, “we can at least make people aware of the real issues.”

The year-old Bachelor of Science in economics is one of three undergraduate degrees offered by the Huether School of Business, where undergraduate, graduate and certificate program enrollment are rising steadily. Economics is housed in the just-opened business school building at 994 Madison Ave., adjacent to College administration offices.

Severin Carlson, the business school dean, believes the new degree in the new building will raise visibility of the College’s longstanding business programs. The degree carries 33 credits in required courses, calculus and two electives. The broad curriculum will eventually include fundamental theories, public finance and the effect of development on the environment.

Carlson said pursuing an economics major or minor would enhance the education of students in accounting or management. Simona Sung, a Saint Rose economics professor since 1990, also sees the discipline as a tie-in to other studies. She noted, for example, that economists use math to evaluate policy and political scientists use it to examine how resources are distributed globally. These principles are also taken up in sociology and history courses.

“The studies of economics and business address the theory of consumer behavior, the concept of opportunity cost, production theory and labor economics,” Prof. Sung said. “These provide the foundation for applied business fields such as marketing, production and operation management and finance.”

Dean Carlson also hopes the economics major draws students with strong math and analytical skills who might not otherwise have considered Saint Rose.

“The target are students interested in understanding the workings of markets and institutions, the factors contributing to national and global distribution, the social impacts of development and arguments underlying many current policy debates,” he explained.

Reflected in his thinking is an expansive list of career options. Economics majors pursue planning, economic development, public policy, law, non-profit management and global finance. They work in the energy and environmental sectors. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported an “explosion” of economics majors, as programs also escalated in Europe. Also building demand are high school advanced placement economics courses.

Prof. Mehtabdin planned to teach public finance and international trade. Prof. Sung, a scholar of microeconomics, will teach the structure of American industry and econometrics – the statistical tools economists use to test their theories. Carlson hopes to add faculty to teach monetary economics.

A third longtime faculty member, Associate Prof. Janet Spitz will teach social economics and sustainable growth. She looks forward to having students apply classroom theory to the community. They might be asked, for instance, to explore how an organization can introduce sustainable practices and services.

She and colleagues note that high unemployment, failing economies in Europe and other front-burner issues make it particularly important now to acquaint students with how economic systems work, or are supposed to.

“The point about policy is that it works not only at the federal level but also the municipal level, at the College of Saint Rose, or your own office,” she said. “Every person has the potential to help form policy. You are learning that if you pay attention and conceptualize a problem, you can do something about it.”

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