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Department of Economics
Last updated 9/20/1999

Knowledge and skill goals for this undergraduate degree program are recorded in the most recent CU-Boulder catalog.

In some summaries of assessment activity, goals are referred to by number (e.g., K-2 is knowledge goal 2).

Activity in 1998-99

The Department of Economics has varied its methodology for the past three outcomes assessments in order to address different questions about both student performance and the Department=s curriculum. In the mid-1990's, the Department administered tests with standardized questions to all intermediate economics theory and international economics students in order to determine if our students were learning basic economic concepts in those general areas. For the 1996-1997 Economics Department outcomes assessment, a national economics exam (the Test for Understanding College Economics or TUCE exam) was given to Principles of Economics students. In addition, portfolios of senior economics students containing term papers, written exams, and other student produced materials were reviewed by a retired Economics professor from another university. The above instruments and methodologies demonstrated that the undergraduate economics students were successfully learning the relevant economics material. For the 1998-1999 outcomes assessment, the Department of Economics collected data from two different sources: a senior survey of graduating economics majors and a survey of Economics Departments across the country. The survey results will be discussed below.

Survey of Economics Majors

Janet Horn, the Department=s Undergraduate Advisor, gave each graduating senior an exit survey form when they came to her office to turn in their graduation packets. The form contained the following questions:

1. Do you plan to apply to graduate school? When? Where? In what field or specialty? Long-term career goals?

2. What economics course(s) did you find the most interesting/useful? Why?

3. What economics courses did you find the least interesting/useful? Why?

4. Are there any economics professors of whom you think especially highly? If so, please name them and tell us what it is about them that you admire.

5. Do you have any additional comments about your experience in the Economics Department? This might include curriculum, advising, accessibility of instructors, etc.

The students= written responses reflected their general satisfaction with their economics education and with the Economics faculty. Two suggestions were made by student respondents which the Department=s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee found to be important. First, it was suggested that undergraduate economics majors be encouraged to take more mathematics courses, especially in preparation for graduate school in Economics. Second, it was suggested that an International Economics track be created.

The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee has acted on both of these suggestions. The Committee has drafted a proposal for an Economics with Quantitative Emphasis track for students wanting a more mathematically based economics major. The Committee has also drafted a proposal for an Economics with International Emphasis track for students who want a more global economics focus. The entire Department will review and vote on these two new programs this academic year (1999-2000). The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee believes that these are worthwhile additions to the current major offerings and expects departmental approval of them.

Survey of Economics Departments Across the Country

The purpose of surveying other Economics Departments across the country was to compare the undergraduate course offerings at the University of Colorado with those Departments with excellent reputations for their undergraduate Economics programs. We selected small liberal arts teaching colleges (e.g., Denison University, Colorado College, Amherst College, Williams College), large state universities (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Washington, Texas, Maryland, North Carolina, UCLA), and highly selective private universities (Harvard, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Duke, Chicago). We primarily focused on total number of hours required for the major, math requirements, course offerings, and program options. We found that the University of Colorado=s undergraduate economics course offerings and requirements were very similar to those of the other colleges and universities in our survey. We were around the median for the number of economics and mathematics hours required for the major.

Several of the schools we surveyed (Stanford, Denison, Colorado College) offered an International Economics track for their majors. As mentioned above, this was one of the ideas that emerged from the senior surveys and upon which the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee has recently acted.

In preparing the proposal for the Economics with Quantitative Emphasis track, the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee used the information regarding the mathematics requirements of the 18 other schools we surveyed. There was a considerable range in the math prerequisites/requirements of the surveyed schools. The list of required math courses included: finite math, linear algebra, calculus (up to three levels), analytic geometry, and analysis 1 and 2.

The Department learned from the survey that other schools shared a number of our offerings. For example, other schools also offered honors seminars, senior capstone seminars, and Economics major with Business Emphasis tracks. The University of Washington offers honors sections of their Intermediate Microeconomics and Intermediate Macroeconomics classes. This was an idea that our department had recently pursued by seeking university funds to support an honors section of Intermediate Macroeconomics. Unfortunately, the extra honors section was not funded. However, if funds are available in the future the Department would like to offer such an honors section for students seeking a more challenging and mathematically-oriented course, especially those considering graduate studies in Economics.

Conclusions

In summary, the Economics Department adopted a two-part assessment methodology for its most recent outcomes assessment. First, it conducted a graduating senior exit survey of all senior Economics majors. Second, it surveyed the course offerings and requirements of 18 Economics Departments across the country. As a result of the findings from these two surveys, the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee has developed proposals for an Economics major with International Emphasis track and an Economics major with Quantitative Emphasis track.

Earlier Years' Outcomes Assessment

Through 1995-96, the Economics department evaluated its upper division students' knowledge of microeconomics, statistics, macroeconomics (1990-91 through 1992-93), and international economics (1992-93 through 1995-96) with sets of 20 multiple-choice questions each incorporated into the final exams of upper division courses ECON 3070 (Intermediate Microeconomics), ECON 3818 (Economic Statistics), ECON 3080 (Intermediate Macroeconomics), and ECON 3403 (International Economics, a course designed for non-majors, primarily those in the International Affairs program and International Business). All students in all sections of these courses took the exams, and faculty were instructed that these sections of the final exams counted towards the students' final grade.

Within each area, specific goals essential to the understanding of the field were identified. The questions were developed by committees of faculty in these areas, with questions for several subtopics within each general area. Item analysis was used to evaluate the appropriateness of each question. Each test included a number of items that only the best students could answer; as a result, the department did not expect average scores of more than 65 percent.

Results were fairly consistent across years. Performance on the exams in the microeconomics and international economics courses exceeded the 65% "average expected performance" standard in most years. Performance on the statistics exams was consistently below the 65% level, as was performance on the macroeconomics exam given between 1990-91 and 1992-93.

However, the faculty found it difficult to interpret the results. For example, differences between the performances of individual classes within an area indicated that the same core of issues and theories may not have been addressed in all sections of a course. In addition, a 1991-92 departmental study of the validity of the statistics assessment indicated that the assessment exam scores did not predict students' performance in future economics courses as well as final grades in the statistics course did.

A new assessment method was piloted in 1996-97. The new approach consisted of

  • administering a nationally standardized examination (the Test for Understanding College Economics, known as the TUCE exam) to a sample of 107 first-year students who had completed Economics 2010 (Principles of Microeconomics), and
  • reviewing some junior and senior economics majors' portfolios. Each portfolio contained some of the following materials: a term paper for an economics course or an economics honors thesis; a project for an Economic Statistics or Mathematical Economics class; exams illustrating economic analysis or statistical skills; and an assignment for an economics class demonstrating economic understanding or use of economic tools. An external evaluator, Dr. James W. Marlin, Jr. (Univ. Of Nebraska, retired), a specialist in the Economics of Education, reviewed the portfolios.
 

The CU-Boulder students outperformed their peers across the country on the microeconomics portion of the TUCE III exam, with an average score of 57.5% compared to the national average of 51.2%. The CU-Boulder students showed particular strength on the topic of "costs, revenue, profit maximization, and market structure," and on questions requiring application of economic principles.

From his review of the portfolios, Dr. Marlin concluded that "...from the materials I reviewed, it appears from [this] limited sample, that the department is achieveing its goals" and that the students did, in fact, "think like Economists," a primary department goal. The department plans to revise the assessment methods in 1997-98 based on their experiences in 1996-97. For example, Dr. Marlin suggested that a larger sample of student work and more clearly defined outcomes criteria would improve the evaluation process.

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Last revision 07/12/02


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