Economics faculty members announced via email their decision to remove the Major Fields Test (MFT) component of the department’s comprehensive requirement (comps) March 25. Beginning with the class of 2018, economics majors will be required to complete their senior seminar (ECON 495) with a grade of C or above in order to graduate. Before the change, students were required to get a C or above in their senior seminar and pass the MFT in the spring semester to graduate. The change is an effort to make the comprehensive component of the major more equitable for all students’ strengths, according to Professor Kirsten Wandschneider, chair of the economics department.
Concerns about the structure and content of the exam drove discussions between faculty members.
“The test is multiple choice,” Wandschneider said. “The test is not written by us, so the senior seminar seemed much better connected to the kinds of things we are teaching our students.”
Wandschneider and other economics faculty prefer the seminar because it encompasses a wide range of skills and knowledge that they hope students have been developing throughout their time in the major. These abilities include an application of economic skills to various contexts, expressing their knowledge of the field in writing and public speaking and analysis of economic theories and concepts. Faculty members believe the diversity of skills tested makes the seminar course a much more equitable measure of student achievement in the major compared to the MFT, which largely assessed test-taking ability.
“We also think that the way we structure the senior seminar really critically prepares [students] for the job market and future performance in the job,” Wandschneider said.
Current senior economic majors are awaiting the results of their MFT.
“I’ve been anxiously waiting for the results of the test since I took it,” Leah Winfrey (senior) said. “And a small voice in my head thinks that they made this change because the seniors who most recently took the test failed.”
Winfrey and other students acknowledge that the test was not reflective of the skills they have learned over the past four years.
“I think that the change was a good idea in that the format of the test wasn’t in tune with the way we take exams in the economics department,” Vinny DeBellis (junior) said. “The MFT is a multiple choice test, and economics majors here are used to written exams demonstrating their knowledge by drawing graphs and explaining intuition.”
The change is also met with questions regarding what the abolishment of the test requirement means for the senior seminar course in upcoming years.
“I do think that in order to uphold the purpose and value of having a comps requirement, the senior seminar will have to be modified to be much more challenging to be comparable to the requirements for other majors’ comps,” Winfrey said.
According to Wandschneider, the senior seminar will not be intentionally made more difficult; rather, greater emphasis will be placed on the aforementioned aspects of applying and analyzing economic concepts and skills.
“We’re not fundamentally changing them or making them extra hard,” Wandschneider said. “Our purpose is to help students succeed, not weed students out.”
Those pursuing economics departmental honors must now write and defend a senior thesis in ECON 499 during the spring semester for faculty in the department to judge. In the past, honors students completed their senior thesis in the fall. The option to pursue honors designation is only available to students with overall and major GPAs of 3.5 or above.
“I believe the change was made to create a better system for the students who wanted to pursue honors degrees,” Taylin Shoemaker (junior) said. “So that they could then take the honors preparation course during the spring semester without conflicting with their senior seminar in the fall or the MFT in the spring.”
Even so, the number of students pursuing economics honors designation is limited by the fact that there are only 10 tenure-track faculty and 70–80 graduating seniors each year in the department.
“We would love to give students more research experience but it’s not something we could staff,” Wandschneider said.