By Katharine Webster
For economics major and Honors College student Wonder Ahiatsi, the timing of UMass Lowell’s new B.S. in Quantitative Economics couldn’t have been better.
Ahiatsi was studying economics and advanced mathematics at Bunker Hill Community College and trying to decide where to continue his education when he learned that UMass Lowell was preparing to launch the new degree in fall 2022 – and was already offering high-level courses required for the B.S., including Econometrics, Mathematical Economics, Analytical Economics and Advanced Software for Economics.
Although Ahiatsi was accepted at every UMass campus where he had applied, he chose UML because he wants the quantitative skills to analyze and recommend government-level economic policies.
“Policies that affect the well-being of a country center on economics,” he says.
This summer, Ahiatsi will intern at the Boston office of Compass Lexecon, an international economics consulting firm. He says the people who interviewed him for the position quizzed him about the new degree and the upper-level quantitative economics and math classes he has already taken.
“They kept asking when the B.S. in Quantitative Economics program was starting,” says Ahiatsi, who will be among the first students to graduate with the new degree in 2023. “They were hitting so much on that point, so that tells you how interested they are.”
Economics Chair Monica Galizzi says the new STEM-designated degree, which has been in the works for several years, will complement the existing B.A. in economics. While students on the B.A. track also must take some math and statistics classes, many of them are more interested in understanding economics in the context of a future career in business or politics, she says.
Students who enjoy math and data analysis and plan to go on to either graduate school or a career in economics want more experience in economic research and the statistical and analytical skills it requires, Galizzi says.
They also want the STEM designation, which is prized by employers, she says. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of economists will grow by 13% between 2020 and 2030, twice as fast as employment for other social scientists or financial specialists.
An added bonus is that international students with a STEM degree can apply for up to two years of postgraduate job training in the United States, compared to one year for graduates with a B.A., Galizzi says.
“We’re developing stronger relationships with employers from major government agencies, like the Federal Reserve and the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, and with private companies including Fidelity, Liberty Mutual and ABT Associates,” Galizzi says. “This is what they really need: students who can produce economic data and analyze it for policy assessment or decisions.”
Assoc. Prof. David Kingsley, who does research in behavioral economics, says the whole field of economics has been evolving toward a more quantitative approach – and adds that many graduate schools now assume that students will have a strong foundation in those quantitative skills.
Emily Sayler, who will graduate in May with a B.A. in economics and minors in business and labor studies, has a job as an airline industry analyst waiting for her at Compass Lexecon. She would have pursued a B.S. had the degree been available, she says.
Sayler says she realized the importance of quantitative research skills after attending a career event co-hosted by the Economics Department and Career & Co-op Services and then following up with a recruiter from Compass Lexecon to ask about internships.
She asked the recruiter what she should do to make her application stand out, and the recruiter told her to do research, learn Stata software and take advanced quantitative classes. Sayler did all three – and got an internship with Compass Lexecon that resulted in the job offer.
“Before, you could choose to take those classes, but employers might not notice them on your resumé,” Sayler says. “Now, with the B.S., employers are going to see at a glance that you have that quantitative background.”
Assoc. Prof. Tommaso Tempesti says research will be built into the B.S. in Quantitative Economics. In fall of their senior year, students will take a class, Advanced Analytical Economics, that requires them to bring together all of their previous learning to do a research project and paper.
That will give them an advantage if they apply to graduate schools and will also show prospective employers that they not only understand economic theory, but can apply it proactively to solve real-world problems, Tempesti says.
“It’s one thing to interpret an economic report, and another to produce it and get your hands dirty with the sausage-making,” he says.
Employers and graduate schools especially seek economics graduates who have both a humanities and social sciences background and excellent quantitative skills, like alumnus Dan Muise, who earned dual degrees in political science and economics and is completing a Ph.D. in political communication at Stanford University, Tempesti says.
“Students who know history, understand social and business dynamics, have interpersonal and communication skills but also have quantitative skills … some employers call them unicorns, because they’re so hard to find,” he says.