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Economics No. 1 for Undergrads

Finance, communication round out top three majors


By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Oct. 3, 2013

Economics, finance and communication are the three most popular majors and concentrations at Boston College, according to a recent report by the Office of Student Services on undergraduate enrollment trends.

In addition, the number of students enrolled in economics — through the College of Arts and Sciences or the Carroll School of Management — is the highest ever recorded for a major or concentration at BC: 1,018. Finance’s total of 862 students represents the largest concentration in Carroll School history.

BC’s overall undergraduate enrollment stands at 9,049, according to the report, with 4,476 graduate and law students.

Communication (844 students this year) — the most popular major for most of the past decade until supplanted last year by economics — along with economics, finance, biology (795), political science (656) and English (559) have comprised the University’s top six enrolled majors or concentrations since 2007, albeit in various orders. 

“The advent of ‘Big Data’ has raised the value of an economics degree, just like how abundant thread caused the market for weavers to flourish during the Industrial Revolution,” said Professor Donald Cox, chairman of the Economics Department, which has seen its number of majors rise by about 83 percent since 2003.

“Data are like thread, and we’re the weavers, except that our work is not likely to be automated away. A class in econometrics — methods for studying economic data — used to be offered maybe once or twice a year at BC. Now we offer four sections per semester, plus labs. And econometrics is used to study a vast array of topics both within and outside economics. It is helpful for understanding everything from prison sentencing to climate change.

“Big Data has made a big difference to economics and to economics majors.”

Griffith Family Professor Hassan Tehranian, chairman of the Finance Department, said, “It all comes down to the quality of our faculty. To be a popular undergraduate program, you have to have superb teachers who pay attention to their students. Our faculty members are among the best in the nation in both those areas.”

Other popular majors this year are psychology (529), nursing (383), applied psychology and human development (367) and accounting (332).

“Economics is a fascinating social science,” said Interim Provost and Dean of Faculties Joseph Quinn, a long-time member and former chair of the Economics Department. “It’s about people, as all the social sciences are, and is at the mathematical and quantitative end of that spectrum. I can hardly think of a public policy issue that does not have a significant economics component, from speed limits, to pollution to kidney transplants.  Trade-offs and opportunity costs are everywhere.  

“The number of economics majors may also be boosted by the stagnant economy, attracting students puzzled to know more about this, or thinking that economics is a good major for the job market. Whatever the reasons, we are happy to have them on board.”

The Student Services report also noted that the enrollments for biochemistry, with 251 majors, and chemistry (138) are at 25-year highs.

Undergraduate minor areas of study with the five largest enrollments were theology, philosophy and Faith, Peace and Justice (184), education (173), international studies (160), leadership and human resource management (142) and Latin American studies and languages (134).

Among other findings, Student Services reported that undergraduate enrollment for 2013-14 includes 390 students on Boston College international exchange programs. There are 71 students enrolled in First Year Writing for English Language Learners, about twice as many as 2010.

A record 381 students are taking Organic Chemistry, and 123 students are enrolled in Elementary or Intermediate German, the most since 1998 and an increase of 40 percent since 2011.

In its analysis of the 4,202 undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded by BC between August of last year and this past May — 2,377 undergraduate, 1,536 graduate, 272 law and 17 canonical — Student Services reported that A&S presented a record 302 bachelor of science degrees. Twenty-five students earned a doctorate in chemistry, the highest recorded number for that degree.

The five largest majors and concentrations at graduation were economics (304), finance (286), communication (244), English (193) and psychology (193).

In addition, more than a third — 37 percent — of full-time undergraduates completed a minor, while 67 students completed accelerated programs to earn an undergraduate and a graduate degree, and 101 degrees were awarded to 65 students pursuing dual-degree programs at the graduate level.