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Son has questions about college economics departments

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bookwormmichelle posted on Tue, Apr 3 2012 4:08 PM

My 16yo homeschooled son reads widely on Austrian economics.  He is beginning to look at colleges and is wondering how to find good schools with diverse enough departments so that he won't be totally frustrated in all his economics classes.  Where can we find schools with at least some free market/Austrian faculty members?

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This.

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Thank you very much.

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In case you didn't notice, that list is specifically for grad schools.  That tends to be the focus of much of this "where can I find Austrian economics in university?" discussion.  You're not really taken seriously as an undergrad...although it helps if you plan on making a career in acadamia (like those that you would be seeking info/advice from have.)

See here:

Email these guys

Threads on Austrian economics and university

 

But I'm not so sure he's going to be able to get away without being frustrated.  If he's 16 and already decently read in Austrian economics, I'm not quite sure if it will be possible to even go to college without pulling at least a few hairs out.  Your best bet is to do what you can to find the best school he can feasibly get into and afford, and have him find other ways of expanding on his "radical" studies.

I mean, what exactly is his goal/purpose in attending college?  That's a very important question to answer.  Meanwhile, you have some time to do research.  Check out:

 

"Please Enroll Responsibly: Avoiding Indoctrination at College"

 

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You might want to look at something like Zmirak, Choosing the Right College 2012-13.  You'd be hard-pressed to find an Austrian undergraduate program anywhere, but at least the colleges presented in that book are likely the least infected by leftist ideology.  Of course, research the economics departments of these colleges if that is your focus.

 

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John James:
In case you didn't notice, that list is specifically for grad schools.

The question is: Where can we find schools with at least some free market/Austrian faculty members? 

The schools are organized by:
 

 

In A, you can get a Ph.D. in economics, and Austrian economics is part of the 

official program. 

In B you can get a Ph.D. in economics, and Austrian economics is not part of the 

official program (but there are Austrians and/or libertarians on the faculty). 

In C, you can not get a Ph.D. in economics, and Austrian economics is not part of 

the official program, but there are Austrian economists on the faculty, and you can get a 

Ph.D. in some other, related, subject. 

 

 

While the list is of particular interest for those seeking Ph.Ds, all the colleges/universities have, at least, Austrian-leaning economic professors on the faculty. 

 

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Yeah I know, my comment wasn't intended to be a strike against that document, (as you can see, it's included throughout the links I compiled in that master link).  I was just making sure the OP caught that the list was recommending grad schools only.

There is a big difference between grad departments and undergrad.  Indeed there are universities that claim some of the top graduate programs in the world...whereas their undergraduate schools are considered quite mediocre...and vice versa.  They are essentially two different schools, and this includes faculty.

I realize the OP specifically just says "faculty members", but (1) the poster may not have a very good understanding for how the university system currently operates, and (2) just because you can find one or two sympathetic faculty members doesn't mean the kid is going to be able to refrain from pulling his hair out.

Sure, he might be able to slide into some office hours or end up conversing with the prof for advice or something every now and then, but other than that, simply having a free-market professor on faculty in the graduate department is not going to make even a slight difference in an undergrad's college experience.  It's possible the prof teaches an intro course, so the kid might actually be able to have him for a single class (and therefore get priority on the prof's attention over just some kid wanting a sane person to talk to), but even then, he'll be lucky if the prof even does the majority of the lectures.  A great deal of the time when a graduate department instructor has an intro class his involvement can be essentially just the fact that his name is on the schedule.  Sure he's probably required to hold some office hours, but what good is that if the only time he has them is when you have another class, and a TA is the one doing most of your lectures and all of your work assignments?

My ultimate point here is that, yes, it's great to have some sympathetic faculty members, but unless you're getting a Master's or PhD and they're your thesis/doctoral advisor, you're really not going to see any sort of difference.

The only way it would possibly matter is if you have a large section of the entire department that is more or less sympathetic, like something at GMU, and you might end up seeing a difference in overall curriculum when compared to some other school.

My point is, the much more important questions for this poster and her son to answer are:

1) Why exactly is he going to college?  Is it just because "that's what you're supposed to do"?  "That's the only way to get a good job"?  What are the goals the young man has and how do they see college being a worthwhile means to achieve those ends?

2) Is college really necessary?  Is it really the best way to achieve those goals?  What other ways might he be able to go about that?

Once you answer those questions, I think it will begin to be seen that the interest in having free market-sympathetic faculty will be less and less relevant.  This is largely due to the things I mentioned above about the presense of such faculty members not really being able to make a significant difference in his undergraduate experience.

Indeed, if the whole reasoning for going to college is to have a better-looking resume, and increase job opportunities, and all those common things, ultimately you're much better off basing the decision about where to matriculate on the standard curricula: school prestige, ranking, affordability, size, convenience.  (Generally in that order.)

If his reason for college is much more personal, as in he feels like it would be a good experience, he wants to delay going into the workforce, he wants a career in academia, or something along those lines, then the priorities change.  There would be a much greater importance placed on affordability and enjoyment/comfort with the student environment and the nature of the instruction and the curriculum.  This is where having more sympathetic faculty might be more of a concern, but again, even in this situation, simply having one or two professors on campus somewhere is not going to mean much.

Ultimately I would suggest taking a serious look at what the kid thinks he wants to do...as in what path and direction he feels he would be happiest taking in life.  I realize this is not an easy thing for a teenager to do, but when you're talking about 4-6 years of your late teens and early twenties, and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars, it's worth a bit of investigation, education and introspection.

Other sources I recommend:

Is College Worth It?  (he recommends the documentary College Conspiracy.  See my review here.)

The College Loan Scheme

College: Why It Is Not a Bubble

The Big Question: Should I Go to College?

What College — If Any

The Question You're Not Asking: Should You Go To College?

Should Everyone Go To College?

 

Bear in mind I'm not trying to discourage anyone from going to college.  I'm simply saying one should consider all options and make sure they are not just following lock-step with the "conventional wisdom" that going to college is always a good thing, and that everyone should...and basically considering it a given.  As Richard Vedder points out, 12% of the mail carriers in the U.S. today now have Bachelor's degrees.  In 1970 only 3% did.  Is mail carrying so much more intellectually challenging that we need more mailmen with college degrees?  Or is it possible the market is getting saturated and we're seeing a bunch of people walking around with diplomas and debt that they could easily be just fine without?  Is a Bachelor's degree (and all the time and money it takes to get one) even necessary for carrying mail in the first place?

Yes, I realize no one necessarily envisions themself (or their children) as mail carriers "when they grow up", but the reality is something like 80+ percent of the degree-carrying workforce holds a job in a field outside of their degree major.  And when one considers the cost of that diploma and the lost potential wages and experience one could have earned in those 4-6 years, the net benefit can often times be negative.  Instead of coming into the workforce at 22 or 23 with no experience and tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt (that can never be written off), one might instead have 4 or 5 years experience and relationships with a company and various industry contacts, as well as no debt and a sizable amount of savings.

All I'm suggesting is that you don't fall into the box of "not going is not an option", and actually consider all options.

 

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I would love it if there were non-college ideas, or even do-it-at-home-for-$5000 college ideas, for my boys but it isn't likely.  I have one enrolling this fall to study physics with an eye to engineering grad school and the one under discussion whose interests include Austrian economics, African development, Swahili and related languages, game theory, and behavioral econ.  (and electric guitar but that doesn't really factor into the education decision).  My guess is he'll end up in graduate school too.  We don't expect a frustration-free experience--I don't know many bright homeschooled kids who fit in seamlessly in college, no matter where they went.  And mine seem more than usually eclectic.  And we don't expect tons of time, especially if he ends up at a big school, with a graduate prof.  I do have an idea how the system works, being an ex-PhD student at a Big 10 school in poli sci and economics, but that was YEARS and years ago and it's a whole  different world now.  But one would hope that if there were a little free-market "buzz" there might also be congenial graduate students, perhaps even a couple of fellow-thinking undergrads, and if one tried answering a question in a seminar with "Well, Hayek said . . . " one wouldn't get blank stares or snorts of derision.  I was a grad student in a program that wasn't a good fit for me (it was complicated, I was married and we both tried to get into school, he in law and I in a poli sci graduate program, in the same place).  We've been poking about at the usual top-mentioned schools and keep getting answers like MIT, Harvard, Yale---but we know who those guys are, we can imagine what that degree experience would be like.  We're just hoping that if we find a list of otherwise compatible looking schools we might be able to get into and afford, that perhaps some of them would be more congenial than others and if so, we would like a guess on what those are.  We appreciate all the discussion so far and will look into the possibilities, and also poke further into the websites of likely schools and look at the course offerings and faculty lists. 

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Sounds like the engineer might actually get something out of a college degree (although I'm not sure about that track...if he's interested in engineering, he should probably just have that as the undergrad major.  Depending on the specific field, he should be able to command a decent starting salary.  I'm not sure what would be the reasoning behind a graduate degree without gaining work experience first...not to mention an employer who would probably foot the bill if the degree were really that necessary.)

However the younger one sounds more of a different type I know.  I'm not really sure anything he does in college would directly influence his ability to earn back the money that was paid for him to go there.  Again, if he's just interested in an experience, or a career in academia, then, yeah, I guess you kind of have to go to college, but other than that, I'm not so sure he'd find something in college that he would enjoy that would end up opening a lot of doors for him (i.e. provide him some kind of marketable knowedge or skill that was in-demand enough to command a high enough wage to make the cost a worthwhile investment.)

I'm curious what you mean by you "wish there were non-college ideas".  Does this mean you don't see them being happy doing anything else?

 

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Well, the catch being that the future engineer also wants to continue some of his other studies (Latin and music composition for the organ), and after consultation with profs in several departments and also several working engineers, decided BS Physics-Masters engineering to be a better approach than a 2-3 program.  Many engineering-only departments or schools do not exactly have stellar music and classics departments.  He's not paying for undergrad except with his time (full scholarships so far for all his potential schools but one.)  I said they were more than usually eclectic even for homeschoolers.  :-)

The next son, when I asked him what is dream job would be, told me it would be working for Cato promoting free trade and fighting against typical dumb development-and-aid programs for Africa.   I know he's only 16 and likely has many changes of mind ahead of him, but I at least am completely unfamiliar with any non-college ways to end up doing ANYTHING like that.  I'd surely be open to ideas!  I think stalking Sallie James or Dan Ikenson until s/he lets him be an apprentice might not be an appropriate course of action.  <vbg>

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Austrian and behavioral econ?

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Many engineering-only departments or schools do not exactly have stellar music and classics departments.

IU has an excellent Classical Studies and Music Program.  I'm in Latin at IU, now.  The Jacobs School of Music is one of the most recognized in the country.  It is not Berklee, but it is good.  But you are right, one is physical science and the other is cultural and social science.  You could go to Purdue for engineering and IU for classical studies and music, haha.

The Poly Sci dept will get you the Austrian economists and libertarian philosophy explored, not in economics (again, at least at IU).  We went over Hayek, Mises, and Rothbard in Y281, Y382, and Y384.  It was an awesome series of classes involving political philosophy and the development of intellectual history. It elevates Rothbard to that of Thoreau and they are both taught alongside Locke, Marx, and Plato.  The professors that taught the Austrians were more sympathetic to the ideas than my fellow students.  We have Ron Paul to thank for the Austrians even being in the curriculum.

I started as an econ major, but when you realize that the only thing you are taught is "bankonomics" it gets a lot harder to take seriously.  The teach Keynesianism/Utilitarianism/ and Coase-ian-ism in economics departments.  My E305 Money and Banking class used a book written by a former Fed Governor, Mishikin, I think.  The professor brought up Ron Paul and said there is contention over some of the macro issues with money, but it largely covered the Fed's methodology and obfuscated the history of the institution.  E308 "Survey of Public Finance" was a disaster.  I wrote a refutation of the textbook I had and it turns out the author was one of the authors of Obama's health care bill...

Something like 85% of the economics majors in the U.S. get internships at a Fed bank after they graduate.  I used to get emails from them seeking interns and some of the "topics" classes in econ are simulated Federal reserve mangement seminars..."students actually operate simulated fed mechanisms" and lucky them they get to be thoroughly indoctrinated in the process.  The Fed has purchased, in its entirety, the economics profession in this country.  If the degree is political either go all out for Graduate Economics at George Mason or NYU, or put up with the garbage and do your own research in Poly sci or Philosophy (I changed my degree to a double major of the two and might get a minor in either history of psychology).  Personally, professors have been supportive of outspoken opinions, just be prepared to back them up.

Or Hillsdale, they have Mises' personal 6000 text library there, I think.  Although, my cousin went to Hillsdale and came out arrogant as all hell and knows next to nothing about Austrian economics (she was a poly sci major) and my guess is she focused primarily on Constitutional issues.

They are all mixed bags.

"The Fed does not make predictions. It makes forecasts..." - Mustang19
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LOL, well, when you are 16 you can be interested in some odd juxtapositions, I suppose.  I'm going to have him work some from MIT's OpenCourse psych and behavioral econ courses this year and maybe it'll help him decide how interesting he really thinks it is.  He ran across some tidbits in a couple of Teaching Company courses, read a popular book or two but hasn't really had time to think it through.  Also he hasn't had much deductive logic yet and so I'll be remedying that this year as well.  Might help a little.  I have typically encouraged them to read up on anything that interests them and that has lead to some really interesting confluences of interests.  I feed them books and articles from my preferred viewpoints <g> but they have this persistent habit of winging off in other directions.  Which is probably good.  If they can resist buying everything Mom is selling perhaps they'll also resist buying whatever "Professor Keynesian" is selling when they do get to college.  At least that's my  hope.  Maybe Son #3 will be more malleable, but he's only twelve and has only recently recovered from his childhood desire to be a tyrannosaurus rex when he grows up.  :-)

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The economics students on here in the past have said that it is nigh impossible to get a job as an economist until you have a PhD.

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