Economics Program Review
by Keith Maskus

The university requires that each of its academic departments and programs goes through a comprehensive program review every seven years. The process takes three semesters and we are two-thirds of the way through. In the first stage, the department rates itself in a number of categories covering teaching, research, and administration. The second stage involves a group of CU faculty members from outside economics offering their own studied opinions of the department's situation and progress. In a third stage, expert economists from outside the university visit the campus and write their own report. Those economists will be here in September 2004. In the final stage, the university administration reads these various reports and makes a series of recommendations about how to improve things. These recommendations are quite important in determining the resources that the department will receive over the next planning period and in setting a course for its future.

In this article I would like to share some highlights of the department's report on itself, because I think it will help explain the nature of our activities. Probably the most remarkable aspect is the enormous undergraduate student demand. In economics, the number of undergraduate student credit hours (SCH) rose from 21,979 in 1996 to 33,409 in 2003, an increase of 52 percent. Economics generated the largest number of SCH of any unit on the Boulder campus in 2003. The department accounted for 1,166 SCH per faculty member, the largest figure on campus by far. In fall, 2003 there were 30 faculty members and for the ratio of SCH per faculty to decline to the highest levels for other large departments, economics would need 44 faculty in total. Unfortunately, with retirements and departures, the number of faculty entering the fall 2004 semester will be only 24. In short, we have a significant shortfall in the size of our department.

This does not mean that students are taught poorly. Rather, we have an unusually large number of visitors and instructors teaching our undergraduates. Indeed, in the coming fall semester 70 percent of our undergraduate courses will be taught by instructors and visitors. These people are informed and dedicated teachers. We do think, however, that our students ultimately would be better served by having more faculty in the classroom and we are pushing the administration to recognize this need.

A second highlight is the continuing improvement in our doctoral education. In the chair's report I wrote of the placement success we have had with our PhD candidates. It is also noteworthy that structural changes in our graduate program, higher expectations, and improved technical skills on the part of students have resulted in a quantum leap in the research productivity of the doctoral students. For example, in the academic years 2000-01 and 2001-02, nine of 15 PhD recipients had published professional articles before leaving CU, while at least four more have done so since completing the degree. These articles appear in such prestigious journals as Journal of International Economics, Journal of Health Economics, and Journal of Development Economics. Research productivity among our graduate students is at an all-time high, which is directly related to their successful placement.

In its report the department recognizes that it needs to gain more productivity from faculty who are less active in research, improve diversity and gender balance among faculty, and become more entrepreneurial in seeking outside financial support. Over the coming few years we will be implementing procedures to achieve these goals. Ultimately, our major need is simply in having more faculty in the classroom and performing high-quality research. We will work with the administration and donors to find resources to bring that objective to fruition.

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