For over a century, the Department of Economics at MIT has played a leading role in economics education, research, and public service. Francis Amasa Walker, MIT’s third president, introduced undergraduate studies in economics more than one hundred years ago. Walker, who rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Civil War and directed the 1870 U.S. Census, was a leading economist of his day. He was a founder and president of the American Economic Association. In the early part of the twentieth century, Davis R. Dewey, the editor of the American Economic Review for twenty years and a longtime chairman of the MIT Economics Department, played a major role in preserving and expanding economics at MIT. In 1937, the Department added graduate courses leading to a master’s degree. Four years later, in 1941, it inaugurated the Ph.D. program that is renowned worldwide. MIT’s approach to graduate training in economics has been widely emulated at other leading institutions.
MIT established its School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (SHASS) in 1950, with the Economics Department playing a central role within the School. The Economics Department expanded significantly in the years following World War II with entrepreneurial leadership from Rupert MacLaurin and a supportive university administration. By the 1950s, it was established as one of the world’s leading centers for economic research. Graduates of the MIT Economics Department’s doctoral program are now well-represented on the faculties of virtually all leading economics departments.
The MIT Economics Department today is a vibrant collection of faculty and students. The Department’s distinguished scholars have received numerous awards, including four Nobel Prizes (Peter Diamond, the late Paul Samuelson, Robert Solow, and the late Franco Modigliani), and many are Fellows of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Econometric Society. Many faculty members have served in various elected offices of the American Economic Association and the Econometric Society.
The Department offers exceptional opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study and research. The MIT Economics Department is one of the world’s preeminent economic research and teaching institutions. It is one of the leaders, if not the leader, in graduate training, and it offers the most rigorous undergraduate economics education at any U.S. college or university. The Department is intellectually healthy. New ideas and new directions in economic research are being developed and pursued with vigor. The faculty is strong. Both undergraduate and graduate students are actively engaged in learning and research. The Department attracts a very large undergraduate student enrollment. During the 2009-2010 academic year, 2072 undergraduates enrolled in economics courses, 143 undergraduates were majoring in economics, 114 were minoring in economics, and another 293 took economics as a concentration. Many undergraduate majors, as well as students from other departments at MIT, participated in research projects supervised by the economics faculty.
Each year the MIT Ph.D. program enrolls about twenty-four candidates, selected from approximately 800 applicants. One important development of the last two decades has been a growing internationalization in the demand for graduate economics training. As nations in Eastern Europe and Asia have embraced free-market economics, there has been a sharp uptick in demand for economists and economic analysis. This has resulted in a significant increase in the number of foreign applicants to MIT’s Ph.D. program.
As a result, currently about half of admitted students have undergraduate degrees from American universities, while the rest have degrees from the developed and developing world.
During the 2009-2010 academic year, there were 118 graduate students enrolled in the Department’s Ph.D. program. Student dissertation topics span a wide range of issues in microeconomics and macroeconomics, and advance the frontier of economic theory, data analysis, and econometric methodology. Most doctoral candidates spend five years in residence at MIT taking graduate courses and doing research. The first two years of the Ph.D. program are devoted primarily to course work, while the remainder of the program focuses on writing a doctoral dissertation. Graduates of MIT’s Ph.D. program pursue diverse careers. Many take positions in academia or in domestic or international economic organizations. Others join firms in the private sector, working as economic consultants or in other capacities.
As the Internet has enabled electronic dissemination of information to replace traditional print media, the MIT Economics Department has taken steps to develop a presence in cyberspace. The Department’s website provides upto-date information on department courses and seminars. It includes links to the many web pages maintained by faculty, who often post research papers, policy papers, data sets, and even computer programs on their sites. Graduate students and economics researchers from around the world visit these web pages to download current research. Our faculty’s research papers are often widely read and cited months or years before they are published in academic journals. Most courses in the economics department are also available online as part of MIT’s Open CourseWare (OCW) initiative.