Penn will reclassify economics as a STEM major after years of consideration, becoming the last Ivy League university to do so and easing the path for many international students to obtain an extended work visa in the United States.
While most student visas are valid up to one year after graduation, international students majoring in STEM-designated programs can become eligible for an additional two-year work extension in their Optional Practical Training. Starting during the spring semester, the economics department will classify the major under a new STEM federal Classification of Instructional Programs code, which is used to classify academic disciplines, according to an email sent on Thursday from Economics Department Undergraduate Chair Francis Diebold.
Out of Penn’s 89 majors at the undergraduate level, economics ranks as one of the most popular majors.
The economics major in the School of Arts and Sciences will join the mathematical economics major, as well as the Wharton School’s Business Economics and Public Policy and Behavioral Economics concentrations in its new recognition as a STEM program.
Penn is the last in the Ivy League to redesignate its economics major as a STEM program, as many of its peer universities — such as Yale University and Cornell University — made the switch in recent years. The change become more popular following the Department of Homeland Security’s inclusion of “Econometrics and Quantitative Economics” in the list of STEM-designated degree programs in 2012.
Shortly following Yale’s reclassification in 2018, Penn administrators reconsidered its classification of economics as a social science but decided not to do so in early 2019, stating that the economics department was "happy" with its options for students interested in the field.
International students who wished to study economics but needed the STEM classification were recommended to obtain a degree in Mathematical Economics, which has a significantly heavier mathematics course load and is four course units more than the traditional economics major.
Despite the University’s previous decision, international students continued to advocate for the economics major to be reclassified, citing that the OPT extension provides further work experience opportunities in the U.S. along with benefits that students may not be able to have in their home countries. Others believed that despite being in the social sciences, economics requires a similar skill set of maths and analysis used by STEM majors.
Some international students at Penn in the past have reportedly opted out of choosing economics as a major in order to better secure their visas, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported in 2018.
Amid increasing immigration restrictions made during the administration of president and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump, employment and student visa authorization has become a process fraught with tension for many international students.
Those involved in recruiting top international students to work in the United States have argued that limited work options for students post graduation places American universities at a disadvantage, Inside Higher Ed reported. With an extra two years, international students in STEM programs may have additional luck in obtaining a non-immigrant H-1B skilled worker visa once their OPT period is completed.
Correction: A previous version of the article misattributed a quote praising the change to Economics Department Undergraduate Chair Francis Diebold’s email when, in fact, it was a statement written by a Penn student on social media. The DP regrets this error.