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 at MIT. 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 PhD 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 faculty have received numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize. Many are Fellows of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Econometric Society. Numerous faculty members have served in various elected offices of the American Economic Association and the Econometric Society.
The Department provides one of the most rigorous undergraduate economics educations of any U.S. college or university, and its classes attract a large undergraduate student enrollment. The department offers a traditional economics major (14-1), a major in mathematical economics (14-2), and a major in computer science, economics, and data science (6-14) offered in collaboration with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Many undergraduate majors, as well as students from other departments at MIT, participate in research projects with the economics faculty, often funded by the Institute’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and departmental funds donated by generous alumni.
The Department is consistently ranked as a top graduate training institution. Each year the MIT PhD program enrolls twenty to twenty-four candidates, selected from approximately eight hundred applicants. Student dissertation topics span a wide range of issues in microeconomics and macroeconomics, and advance the frontiers of economic theory, data analysis, and econometric methodology. An important development of the last two decades has been a growing internationalization in the demand for graduate economics training. Currently about half of admitted students have undergraduate degrees from American universities, while the rest have degrees from elsewhere in the developed and developing world.
Most doctoral candidates spend five or six years in residence at MIT taking graduate courses and doing research. The first two years of the PhD program are devoted primarily to course work, while the remainder of the program focuses on writing a doctoral dissertation. Graduates of MIT’s PhD program pursue diverse careers. While a majority enter academia, MIT economics PhDs are sought after by governments, domestic and international research and policy organizations, and private sector firms.
The majority of classes offered by the Economics department are also made freely available online through MIT’s heralded Open Course-Ware (OCW) initiative (ocw.mit.edu). In 2017, MIT Economics and The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) created the MITx MicroMasters program in data, economics, and development policy (DEDP). Through online courses and proctored exams, learners from around the world gain a strong foundation in microeconomics, development economics, and data analysis. Top students who earn the MicroMasters credential online have the opportunity to apply to the residential Master’s program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy, launched in 2019.