Following in the footsteps of other Ivy League universities, Columbia College recently designated economics as a STEM subject.
The reclassification of the subject means that international students majoring in the field in the college will be able to remain in the United States for an extra two years, reported the Columbia Spectator.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows international students without a work visa to remain in the country working for one year on their student visa, a period known as Optional Practice Training. Students majoring in STEM-designated programs are eligible for a two-year extension in their OPT.
The ability of a STEM degree to give foreign students the opportunity to live in the U.S. for an extra year often has a large impact on international students’ decision when it comes time to choose a major.
Although many other universities have already reclassified economics as a STEM major, including Brown University, Princeton University, and, most recently, Yale University, Penn has yet to make official announcements.
The prospect of reclassifying economics as a STEM major at Penn, however, is not entirely out of the question.
"The Economics Department has begun exploring whether it is appropriate to seek this classification for its undergraduate program,” College Dean Steven Fluharty wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian in January.
Reclassifying economics as a STEM major could have an especially large impact on Penn students. Nearly 16 percent of Penn's Class of 2021 consists of international students and the number of foreign applicants has increased in recent years.
Some students at Penn have reported to opt out of pursuing economics as a major in order to secure their visas.
Hong Kong citizen and College sophomore Rachel Liu told The Daily Pennsylvanian in November 2017 that she is considering choosing a STEM major rather than pursuing her interests in politics and economics. She said she is drawn to choosing a STEM degree since it will allow her to extend her visa a few years.
Undergraduate Penn students interested in an economics major, however, have two options currently: economics and mathematical economics. While mathematical economics could potentially be classified as a STEM major, economics does not quite fit the criteria needed to be considered a STEM subject at the moment.