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The Curriculum

The degree of Ph.D. in Economics requires 48 credit hours of approved Ph.D. level courses and a dissertation in the student’s chosen field of concentration. In the first two years students will feel like they are in a familiar environment. Their work consists almost entirely of taking classes, writing papers, and taking examinations. However as the years pass, emphasis passes from full time class-based coursework to full time independent research. More details on degree requirements can be found under the “Guide for Current Ph.D. students” tab.

The Ph.D. program begins with coursework. The typical first and second year course load consists of three, 3-credit courses per semester. In the first year all students are required to take the same seven classes on the techniques of modern economic analysis. In August before the first full year, incoming students are required to take an intensive course in mathematical economics (often referred to as the “Math Boot Camp”). The first full year course of study follows the standard U.S. economics Ph.D. curriculum. It includes:

  • mathematical economics review (August preceding first year fall enrollment)
  • microeconomics (two semesters)
  • econometric theory (two semesters)
  • macroeconomics (one semester)
  • applied econometrics (one semester)

In their second year, students complete field courses. The Economics Department offers at least three economics field courses each semester of the second year. All second-year students are required take at least two of these Economics offerings each semester of their second year. Most of them take three Economics classes, however some may elect to take Ph.D. courses outside of the Economics Department, subject to prior approval by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Transition from student to researcher begins in the third year. In the fall and spring semesters students are required to take one Research Methods class. They may also elect to take courses outside of the Economics Department. With prior approval by the Director of Graduate Studies these may count towards the required 48 credits.

Examples of classes that have been taken in other Tulane schools and approved for credit include courses in Mathematics, Statistics, Biostatistics, Finance, Political Economy, Public Health, Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Law, and Disaster Resilience Leadership.

Fields of Study

Large departments in traditional programs handle their many students by requiring that they all choose from a set of pre-designed “fields”. This actually limits their ability to pursue their interests. The comparative advantage of Tulane’s Ph.D. program is that we can offer unequaled flexibility in constructing programs of specialization that are tailor-made to your interests. In large programs students typically do not get to know any faculty members well until their fourth or fifth year. Our small size means that students and faculty begin interacting on program day one. By the time that fields of concentration are being sculpted in the second and third year, students have already established a rapport with several professors who have taken a personal interest in their academic formation. Examples of fields that have been constructed successfully in this way include

Public economics and public policy

The public economics and public policy field can combine the study of government policy with the study of the economics of the firm. Topics may include taxation and expenditures, financial economics, trade and migration, market failures and environmental economics, and welfare economics. The field will draw upon faculty expertise in the Economics Department and in the Freeman School of Business. Students’ research can also benefit from the programs and resources of the Murphy Institute of Political Economy.

Students who pursue this field might:

  • analyze the effects of government tax and spending policies on the distribution of income and the efficiency of resource use, and then apply the knowledge to the practical policy reform of public finance systems around the world
  • learn the models necessary to understand economic and environmental linkages, and then use econometric tools to evaluate real world environmental and natural resource policies
  • explore the causes and consequences of international trade and globalization
  • develop a strong understanding of the modern firm by focusing on its organization, governance, and strategic behavior, and then apply the knowledge to the financial decisions of firms and to firm performance

The coursework of students who successfully followed this field consisted of classes such as public finance I (which includes the economics of taxation), public finance II (which includes public expenditures and special topics), public policy and the firm (which includes topics in corporate governance). Electives included urban economics, political economy, trade, empirical corporate finance, or empirical financial markets.

Students who focused on Public Economics and Public Policy parted from a very solid foundation in the tools of modern economic and econometric analysis but at the same time gained a unique, interdisciplinary foundation for the integration of specialized knowledge related to firm behavior and government policy. In some cases the components had a strong international focus. Graduates who pursue this sort of track have a broad range of job prospects, including academic institutions, international organizations, local governments, and national governments.

Development, inequality, and poverty

The development, inequality, and poverty fields have focused on market and non-market determinants of inequality and poverty and on policies that seek to address these issues. This field builds on the Economics Department's strengths and expertise in development economics and on the economics of taxes and spending. Students interested in this area may benefit from association with the Department-based Commitment to Equity Institute (CEQ), funded by a $5 million Gates Foundation grant. The field also leverages expertise of partners in the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the Center for Inter American Policy and Research, and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Students will learn how to conduct both comparative and country-specific poverty and inequality analyses and will acquire important institutional knowledge about the contexts of these issues.

Students who pursue this field might:

  • examine the causes and the consequences of inequality and poverty
  • learn the theoretical perspectives and quantitative tools used to assess poverty and inequality programs
  • build up institutional knowledge about geographic, cultural, social, economic, and political characteristics of studied countries
  • develop an understanding of how the relationship between markets, institutions, and politics affects the effectiveness of poverty reduction programs

The economics of inequality and poverty have taken center stage in the field of Development Economics as an increasing number of scholars, academic publications, and research centers have become devoted to this subject. There has been a sharp increase in the collection of poverty and inequality data. Many countries now implement controlled experiments to test the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs. There are new dedicated journals to the subject: e.g., the Journal of Economic Inequality and Poverty and Public Policy. Yet, few economics Ph.D. programs require (or even encourage) their students to acquire context-specific expertise about the geographical, political, cultural, and social characteristics of the countries that are the subject of empirical analysis. As such, academic institutions, international organizations, and national governments throughout the world have a high demand for students who have both quantitative skills and institutional knowledge about the causes of poverty and inequality.

Coursework for this field may consist of classes such as: (i) a standard development economics course; (ii) a specialized field course on the economics of inequality and poverty; and (iii) an elective that further relates to the student's dissertation topic, such as economics of education, health economics, urban economics, labor economics (including migration), and public finance. Electives may include courses and an independent study with of one of our cross-campus partners. There is potential for collaborative initiatives with partner academic and non-academic institutions in and outside the United States. The program provides graduate students pursuing dissertation research with connections to selected centers/institutes abroad including Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City; GRADE, Lima, Peru; and Universidad Nacional de La Plata and Universidad Torcuato di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Three members of the Department have joint appointments with the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and ample practical experience in the region, giving Tulane’s Department of Economics the right to boast of the highest percentage of faculty members with expertise and field experience in Latin America of any U.S. university.

Once again, this ability to combine rigorous quantitative skills with practical, context-specific knowledge from cross-campus and external partners distinguishes our program. A solid foundation in the tools of economic analysis combined with an equally firm footing on the practical issues that arise in the field positions graduates to look like very attractive job candidates. This is true for academic hiring, but proves to be especially appealing to international organizations –such as the UN system, the World Bank and regional development banks –specialized research institutions, NGOs, think-tanks, and government agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Health economics and public health

Health economics is the third example of a successfully constructed field of concentration. Focus is on the complex relationship between human health and health policy. This field variant draws from the Economics Department's own strengths in health, labor, and economic history, as well as from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine's (SPH) expertise in health institutions and health policy. Three members of our Department conduct research on a variety of U.S. health topics. But in addition, the SPH –one of the top schools of public health in the world –has an additional four health economists on its faculty who mainly study health issues in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Economics Department students interested in health (and/or development) regularly take classes at the SPH, work as research assistants there, and receive dissertation mentorship and funding from SPH faculty. Once again: our students receive a very solid traditional foundation in the methods of modern economic analysis –the skills necessary to conduct rigorous empirical research –but they are also able to explore the mechanisms, institutional organization, and policies that affect both health outcomes and human-capital outcomes. By taking some of the core SPH Ph.D. courses they become fluent in the language of a second, closely entangled discipline.

In addition to the core foundation in economic and econometric theory and in the issues in health economics, our students who pursue this field might:

  • learn about the main vectors of disease
  • learn the empirical tools used to evaluate health programs and policies
  • learn the theoretical and empirical tools necessary to evaluate the economic history of health and labor programs and institutions
  • build up institutional knowledge about U.S. and global health systems
  • conduct research at the forefront of health economics and labor economics

Coursework for this field may consist of classes such as the theory and empirical methods of health research, the theory and practice of causal inference, and topical research in health economics with a focus on health policy. But in addition, elective classes may include courses offered by the SPH.

Unique interdisciplinary training helps to distinguish our graduates from those in more traditional programs where health economists and public health experts sit in isolated intellectual silos. The cross-fertilization that is encouraged in our program and the ability to speak to and understand practitioners in closely related fields increases the chances of securing prominent job placements. Students who focus on health research will be gaining tools to enter academia, government, and the private or non-profit sectors. In addition, by forging formal relationships with faculty in both Economics and cross-campus partners, our graduates will learn about a broader range of the job opportunities for economists with expertise in health and labor.

Education and human capital

Is the fourth and final example. Here the emphasis is on understanding the links between the labor economics, economic theory of human capital, public economics, educational institutions, economic history, and public policy. Just like every other department in the U.S. that offers a concentration on the economics of education, Tulane Ph.D. students who chose this field are well trained in the basic tools of microeconomic and econometric analysis and in the theories of public finance and education. However Tulane Econ also offers the potential for collaboration with leading institutions like the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives and the Education Research Alliance.

Students who pursue this field might:

  • develop an understanding of the important economic functions of education
  • develop an understanding of human-capital theory as it relates to education
  • explore the need for public sector intervention in the sector and its interface with private actions and incentives
  • build an understanding of the complex three-way interaction between students as principals and parents and government as agents
  • master advanced skills in the techniques of causal inference
  • gain hands-on experience in the bubbling cauldron of educational experimentation that is the New Orleans school system

Coursework for this field should include classes in public finance, labor economics, and education economics. Several dissertations currently being written are taking advantage of new databases being generated by the Education Research Alliance.