UC Berkeley administration reclassifies economics as STEM major

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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Following in the footsteps of many other U.S. universities, such as Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the UC Berkeley administration has officially designated economics as a STEM major after two years of lobbying by former ASUC senator Harshil Bansal and current ASUC Senator Andy Theocharous. 

This change is intended to appeal to international students who look for jobs in the United States after graduation from UC Berkeley, according to Theocharous. Under current law, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services permits international students to use their student F-1 visas to stay in the country and work for up to a year after they graduate. However, through Optional Practical Training, or OPT, international students can be granted an additional two years to work in the country if they graduate from a major classified as science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security currently grants OPT extensions to international students based on their majors’ Classification of Instructional Programs, or CIP, codes. In previous years, UC Berkeley’s economics major has been designated with the “economics” CIP code, separate from STEM CIP codes, according to the UC Berkeley economics department’s website. This new shift ensures that UC Berkeley’s economics program will now be designated with the “econometrics and quantitative economics” CIP, making it a STEM degree.

Theocharous worked alongside Bansal to get economics designated as STEM. 

“We spoke to the interests of Berkeley’s international community and knew this change would be beneficial,” Theocharous said. “For three years, we’d been pressuring the economics department and administration to change the code.” 

The department of economics at UC Berkeley has welcomed the change and has been open to communicating with the ASUC to make it happen, according to Theocharous. 

Alan Auerbach, chair of the economics department, said he believes the CIP code change reflects the more quantitative nature of the economics field. 

“Economics is a social science, but it relies increasingly on the use of quantitative tools and methods,” Auerbach said. “The shift reflects the evolution of the field of economics over the years, toward a greater emphasis on the mathematical and statistical basis of the subject.” 

According to the department’s website, the reclassification of economics may help students with job market placement and bring in new research and funding opportunities to the field. 

The change of the CIP code is retroactive and will affect students who graduated from the economics program at UC Berkeley starting in fall 2017, according to the department’s website. 

Although the CIP changes have not been in effect for this upcoming fall’s admissions season at UC Berkeley, it may affect future admissions, according to Theocharous. I believe admissions will be affected slightly, since international students look at what majors give them the longest OPT and allow them to work longer as graduates,” Theocharous said.

Contact Maria Alexander at [email protected].