23 October 2008

Hoi polloi majors

Via Tyler Cowen:

A much higher percentage of students were very satisfied with the economics major at schools with unrestricted-entry business programs as compared with schools with a restricted-entry business program. This is logical because many students at restricted-entry business program schools may have taken the economics major as an alternative to the business program as an alternative to the business program they could not get into, and therefore would not be as satisfied because it is not the track they would have chosen ideally…

This data suggests that the presence of an unrestricted-entry business program has a positive impact on the satisfaction levels of economics majors. When such programs exist, the economics major is not forced to balance both the goals of students who would rather be in business programs with the goals of students who would study economics either way; therefore the economics major can more easily suit all of its students’ demands.

Jacob Grier reports that this mirrors his experience at Vandy.

I'd dearly like to see the same study for Computer Science, comparing the attitudes of CS students when IT/MIS and software engineering programs are available. Notre Dame had an MIS program while I was there (though I think they were phasing it out or maybe turning it into a minor, I don't remember which). I think this shunted some people into the business program who were just looking to make money in technology but weren't really interested in computation in an intellectual sense.*

On the other hand there was no software engineering program, or minor, or focus, or anything. So there were still a lot of people in Computer Science that wanted to be software developers and were disgruntled at having to take anything remotely theoretical. Even being required to use C was too much for them, because they didn't think "real" developers used C anymore. Luckily for me the first semester was taught in Lisp, so a lot of them got washed out quickly.

* I feel a little bad saying this because I have one friend (who I'm pretty sure doesn't read this blog) who was in the MIS program and is both smart and intellectually curious. But I'm going to let it stand because the one MIS course I took was populated by myself, one other capable CS student, and about 28 zombies and remedial screw-ups who were either required to take one technology credit for their management degrees or were actually majoring in MIS only because they thought it was going to be nice to put it on their CV. These were people who were baffled by what HTML meant (as in what the actual acronym stood for, not what it was or how it worked, which is still pretty simple) three quarters of the way through a class on technologies for internet commerce. If I interrupted a Poli Sci course on the Cold War three months in and asked what "USSR" meant, I'd hope to be laughed out of the room. Obviously, this MIS course was not peopled by the best and brightest Mendoza College of Business had to offer.**

** That footnote was longer than the rest of my post (excluding quotations) combined. Just thought I'd mention that.


  1. Interesting. ND - regrettably - has a lousy econ department. I was actually turned off of economics and into business. Mendoza actually offered more interesting classes on banking, finance, securities and the like than the A&L college. Also, even though I majored in a very "marketable" degree, I got a great overall education. But then again I made a point in taking a bunch of different things, studying abroad, ect. I always hated when people assumed b majors were sluffing it towards a job. College is what you make of it.

  2. Agreed that econ was lousy, especially in comparison to Mendoza. There was also that economics vs econometrics turf war going on then. And I agree completely about quality overall. What most attracted me to ND was the ability to do CS and study lots of other things in a quality way.

    I was a little worried that it would look like I was disparaging the college of business overall. But I think there's always a tension in (potentially) applied fields like business and engineering between those that want to learn just to learn, and those that want to learn just enough to list things on their resume or use once they get a job. Like you said, it's what you make it. But to a certain degree, what everyone else wants to make of it impacts the courses you take.