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Economics: Undergraduate Programs

Overview: 
The central mission of the four year undergraduate degree in economics is to give students the tools of economic reasoning. The degree provides excellent preparation for careers in business, government, education, and private research and consulting. Because economics offers a clear, concise, and rigorous way of thinking and problem solving, an undergraduate major in economics is also excellent preparation for pursuing a master of business administration (MBA) degree, for law school, for graduate study in international relations or management, or for graduate study in economics or finance. Economics majors who have completed the requisite science courses often also gain admission to medical and dental schools.
 
The eight core courses of the Economics major serve four degree programs and UA’s General Education program, which have somewhat different learning goals. The eight courses serve, specifically: 
 
  • the Business Economics major in the Eller College of Management;
  • the Economics major in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; 
  • the Economics minor;
  • Other undergraduate majors in the Eller College of Management; and
  • the university’s General Education program (Economics 200 only).
 
Expected Learning Outcomes: 

To create a manageable framework for assessment, the Economics Department focuses on the six broad learning goals for Eller’s undergraduate major, goals which cut across all departments of the Eller College. The College has adopted subgoals under each broad goal, and the Economics Department has modified some of those subgoals, reflecting the particular needs of its major.

The goals and subgoals for the Economics core courses are:

Critical Thinking

Identify a problem and the information needed to develop alternative solutions.

Evaluate alternative solutions to a problem, using an appropriate analytical framework, and recommend an optimal solution.

Use theoretical models to predict the behavior of individuals, firms, and economic systems.

Articulate both sides of an argument, evaluate the quality of arguments, and evidence, and construct and defend the position taken.

Use statistical data analysis to answer empirical questions, using appropriate software.

Business Knowledge*

Explain the relationships among business, government, and markets.

Explain the determination of prices in a market economy.

Apply profit-maximizing principles to common business decisions.

Explain the determinants of international trade and the workings of international markets.

Social Responsibility

Describe how alternative courses of action affect various individuals and social groups.

Describe, evaluate, and apply criteria for weighing competing interests, for the purpose of making policy decisions.

Compare and evaluate the arguments supporting various government policies.

Communication

Write appropriately for a given audience with conciseness and clarity.

Utilize data in written and oral presentations.

Collaboration

Provide and receive feedback, ideas, and instruction in a professional manner.

Organize tasks and delegate responsibility to complete collaborative projects in a timely manner.

Explain the impact of each team member (including oneself) on the collaborative project and the role each member plays.

Technology

Make appropriate and effective use of information technology for research.

The Business Knowledge (*) subgoal encompasses two topics for which the undergraduate majors in the Eller College of Management, other than the Business Economics major, explicitly rely on Economics courses. It relies on: 300 to explain “the relationships among business, government, and markets, including international markets;” 330 to create “an awareness of global trends and the impact on businesses.”

Assessment Activities: 

 
Assessment process for individual courses

The Economics Department assesses student mastery of the six broad goals mainly through assessments within the core courses: Economics 200, 300, 330, 332, 361, 407, 453, and 479. (All are 3-credit courses, except for Economics 479, which is a 1-credit writing course.) The department’s Learning Outcomes Table summarizes the goals and subgoals for which each course is responsible, the course requirements for each of the four degrees, and the assessment instruments used in each course.

The in-course assessments comprise mostly pre-selected exam questions but also papers and projects. All results are reported on a general four-point scale:

4.0        Exceeds expectations

3.0        Meets expectations

2.0        Partial achievement of the learning goal

1.0        Does not meet the learning goal

The instructors of the eight courses have developed assessment instruments and rubrics for applying these standards to the goals assigned to that course, in the context of that course. These instruments have evolved over the past several years, because the instructors for most of the courses have changed. The results for each course are part of an annual Learning Outcomes Assessment for that course. 

For objective (true/false or multiple choice) exam questions, the department uses the following rubric:

Share of students who answer the question correctly          Assessment score

85%                                                                                       4.0          Exceeds expectations

70%                                                                                       3.0          Meets expectations

55%                                                                                       2.0          Partial achievement

40%                                                                                       1.0          Does not meet the goal

To assess collaboration, the department uses a common collaboration rubric, across all courses. It is based, in part, on the National Teamwork Rubric for Peer-to-Peer Assessment.

Exit survey

Each graduating economics major receives an exit survey through which he or she can provide anonymous feedback about the undergraduate courses and major and how well they mastered the program’s learning goals. The results are reported here and to the faculty. To make the survey results more meaningful, the department will explore ways to improve the response rate.
 
Student Council
 
The Student Council for Economics Majors, a group created primarily for students in the SBS major, have an annual opportunity to discuss theissues covered by the exit surve, with the Undergraduate Director or other appropriate faculty. The faculty member(s) moderating this discussion will prepare a written summary.
 
Involvement of the general Economics faculty 

The department has adopted an academic year assessment cycle for its undergraduate major: it assesses the program during each Fall semester, based on the results of the previous academic year. The review is conducted by an assessment committee comprising the department chair, the department’s undergraduate director, the department’s assessment coordinator, and any other person appointed by the department chair. This report and linked appendices are the results of that review and are made available to the Economics faculty on UA’s assessment website. The assessment committee will typically also recommend to the faculty changes in the undergraduate program, based on the overall assessment findings. The faculty discusses the findings and recommendations at a spring meeting and may make changes in the program accordingly.

 
Assessment Findings: 

The learning assessment for each of the eight core courses is described in a year-end Learning Outcomes report. Most of the following sections appear in each report:the programmatic learning goals and subgoals for which that course is responsible;

  • the basic structure and pedagogical methods of the course;
  • the assessment instruments for that course;
  • the results of those assessments for academic year 2012-13, including in some cases a comparison to prior years;
  • any comments by the instructor(s) on the assessment;
  • additional course-specific learning outcomes, beyond the department-wide assessment.

The Learning Outcomes reports, for academic year 2015-16, are linked here:

    Enrollment in
AY 2015-16
Change from
AY 2014-15
Change from
AY 2011-12
200: Basic Economic Issues (Economic Principles) 4,134 4% 19%
300: Microeconomic Analysis for Business Decisions 886 -6% NC
330: Macroeconomic and Global Institutions and Policy 893 12% 7%
332: Intermediate Macroeconomics 384 -14% 13%
361: Intermediate Microeconomics 447 NC 21%
407: Economics of Strategy 97 -3% 7%
453: Quantitative Methods for Economic Strategy 112 -22% 15%
479: Communications in Economics 386 NC -5%

("NC" indicates a change of less than 3%. Note that only the Eller major, not the SBS major, requires Economics 407 and 453. There is a delay in the report of Economics 453 due to a delay in reporting some of the data for Spring 2016.)

Enrollment in the core courses is related to the number of students who choose an economics major, but the enrollment in Economics 332 and above considerably exceeds what can be explained by the number of majors who graduate:

  Majors graduated
in AY 2015-16
Change from
AY 2014-15
Change from
AY 2011-12
Eller College 62 5% -16%
School of Social and Behavioral Sciences 242 39% 74%
TOTAL 304 30% 58%

For the enrollment calculations, an academic year begins with the summer term and ends with the spring term.

In addition to Learning Outcome Reports for individual courses, the department began in 2013 a program of detailed department-level reviews of two core courses per year. These intensive reviews, by temporary committees constructed for this purpose, consider assessment results for the previous few years, classroom visits, review of syllabi and examinations, interviews with the instructors, data from the standard university course evaluations, and other data as determined appropriate by the ad hoc review committee. The 2013 reports appear here: Economics 200; Economics 361. (The program was paused in 2014 due to changes in the personnel teaching courses.) In 2016-17 the department will repeat this process for Economics 332 and 479.

The department’s Assessment Coordinator consolidates the findings of all ten reports into an annual Summary of Assessment. The following table presents a very brief summary: the numerical assessment of each course for each broad goal for which that course is responsible, and the average score across all assessed courses. These scores reflect only the assessment results for academic year 2015-16. 

The table also reports, in the last column, students' overall assessments of the Economics major, according to each learning goal. These data were collected in Spring 2016 from graduating economics majors, through this year's exit survey. They reflect answers to questions such as: "How well did the Economics Major develop your ability to engage in effective Collaboration?"

Learning Goal Average 200 300 330 332 361 407 453 479 Exit Survey
Critical Thinking 2.8 2.1     3.1 3.0 2.4 * 3.2 3.3
Business Knowledge 2.9 1.5 3.6 3.5 3.7 2.9 2.4     3.5
Social Responsibility 3.2 1.8   3.5 3.6 1.9       2.9
Communication 2.9           2.5 * 3.3 2.8
Collaboration 3.6           3.3 3.9   3.3
Technology *             *   3.1
* = Some data for Spring 2016 are not yet available; averages are computed without these entries
 
To some extent, all eight courses teach outcomes such as Critical Thinking and Business Knowledge, but to improve accountability and simplify program assessment the department focuses on particular courses for the assessment of particular outcomes. 
 
Although all eight courses report their assessments on a common scale, using somewhat similar rubrics, it is important to emphasize that no systematic calibration has yet occurred (e.g., the difficulty of assessment questions may differ across courses). Therefore, cross-course comparisons should be made cautiously. Instructors have been advised that assessment results will not be used to evaluate teaching performance. The department expects cross-course comparisons to become more meaningful over time, as the department continues to standardize its assessments.
 
The table shows that the students' self-assessments of what they learned from the Economics major are hardly correlated with the assessments based on actual performance in the courses. The students reported ranked Critical and Thinking and Business Knowledge among the goals best achieved, but these were among the weakest areas in performance. This discrepancy probably reflects, at least in part, differences between students' and instructors' expectations for goals such as Critical Thinking. It may also reflect what students felt they learned in the elective courses that are excluded from the department's course-based assessments. 
 
In addition to the questions about specific learning goals, the exit survey asked graduating economics majors for four summary assessments of the major. The next table reports those results.
 
Question Exit Survey
Overall quality of courses 3.2
Overall quality of instruction 3.2
Preparation for life after graduation 3.1
Overall satisfaction with the major 3.2
 
The exit survey includes several free response questions, which are summarized in the exit survey report. The low response rate, and varied responses, prevent clear conclusions.
 
Returning to the assessment of student performance by learning goal, the next table presents comparable data from academic year 2012-13, three years earlier. Except for Economics 200 and 479, all courses have had a major change in assessment methodology, and a change in structure or instructor(s) or both, through this period. This limits the interpretation of the comparison across years. For Economics 200, most of the instructors have changed and half of the assessment questions have changed, but the remaining questions have remain fixed through the period. There have been no significant changes in Economics 479. 
 
Learning Goal Average 200 300 330 332 361 407 453 479
Critical Thinking 2.7 2.1     3.1 1.0 2.9 3.6 3.4
Business Knowledge 2.8 2.6 3.7 3.6 2.7 1.7 2.6    
Social Responsibility 2.7 2.1   3.1 2.6 2.9      
Communication 3.4           3.1 3.8 3.3
Collaboration 3.6           3.3 3.9  
Technology 3.9             3.9  

Performance on the 15 unchanged Economics 200 assessment questions can be be meaningfully compared across years. In 2015-16 students did better on the 15 "old" questions than on the 15 new questions, but even the performance on the old questions has declined slightly, compared to three years earlier.    

Econ. 200: Performance on 15 fixed assessment questions
Year Pre-test Post-test Gain
2012-13 38% 61%  (2.4) 23%
2015-16 35% 56%  (2.1) 21%

The accumulated data for the Economics 200 pre-test and post-test, for each broad learning goal since academic year 2011-12, are maintained in a spreadsheet that allows the tracking of trends over time. Performance is computed for nine different learning goals, the three broad goals assigned to Economics 200 as part of this programmatic assessment and six separate course-specific goals concerning economics content: basic concepts and definitions; firm theory, microeconomic policy; stabilization policy; and monetary policy and inflation.

Change in Response to Findings: 

 
Changes in Courses 

Economics 200

Following earlier changes in the syllabus of Economics 200, the assessment questions for Economics 200 were revised for Fall, 2015: 10 questions were eliminated and 15 questions were added. This was the second time, in the past five years, that the question battery has been revised. All of the questions that have been used through this period, including the years in which they were added to or deleted from the battery, are compiled here. As previously noted, new and highly rated instructors have been hired to teach this course.

One instructor of Economics 200, Steve Reff, won the university-wide five-star teaching award. 

Economics 361

Previous assessment results raised questions about the efficacy of Economics 361, leading to a change in the instructor and the structure of the course. Student responses indicate continuing concern about the course and its difficulty, which is still going through revisions.

Economics 407

The assessment process revealed weaknesses in the course following changes in the instructor. The previous successful instructor was brought back to the course for 2015-16.

Economics 300, 330, 332

All of these courses have had changes in the instructor and significant changes in content and instructional methods. The department will review the success of the courses as data accumulate.

The content for Economics 300 has been brought into closer alignment with the content of Economics 361, with which it substitutes.

For Economics 300 and 330, the Assessment Coordinator will work with the instructor and the Eller College to ensure that the course content and assessment instruments adequately cover the specific requirements that the College has for each course. This process should also produce, for Economics 330 and 332, greater consistency in the topics assessed under Business Knowledge.

Economics 453

The long-time instructor of this course made major changes in the course structure in 2015-16, partly in response to assessment results but substantially in response to resource constraints.

 

Changes in the Assessment Process, recent and prospective

The faculty was queried and expressed satisfaction with the current and longstanding statement of the undergraduate program's learning goals.

The exit survey is an important and evolving document, as is the process for collecting responses. In past years the exit survey occurred through the degree check process, but changes in that process forced the survey to become an online voluntary process. This has greatly reduced the response rate, and so it is important to find a way to bring the response rate back up.. 

The new assessment process through the Student Council of Economics Majors is evolving. 

Much work has gone into the method of assessing Collaboration, which at present applies to two courses. Assessment of the current method of assessment, described here, awaits the accumulation of experience and data.

The Economics 200 assessment questions were revised, as described above. The instructors of the courses have, for now, opted not to rotate the assessment questions.

Instructors will be encouraged to take advantage of the university's service of observing and videotaping lectures and receiving constructive comments on possible improvements.

Greater emphasis will be placed on updating this assessment page annually.

 

Outstanding Issues and Questions 
 
The following questions, which have been raised by the assessment findings, remain open for discussion among the assessment committee and the general faculty. The assessment committee will meet to determine what specific recommendations it may make. 
 
An ongoing issue is designing the assessments so that results for a given learning goal are more comparable across courses.
 
Should the department create a comprehensive exam for pre-testing when students enter the Eller Economics major and then use the same exam as a post-test upon graduation?
 
Is student performance adequate in Critical Thinking, which most instructors in the program include among their most important goals? Each of the eight core courses places considerable emphasis on analytical reasoning and the difficult tradeoffs involved in making decisions; yet many instructors believe that most students still show inadequate skills in those areas. There appears to be a particular deficiency in any area that requires mathematical reasoning.
 
Should the intensive review cycle for the eight core courses be extended to the elective courses in the Economics major? 
 
Updated date: Mon, 08/08/2016 - 03:36