THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

HomeAbout The Teaching Economist Contact the Editor Support

Issue 41, Fall 2011

William A. McEachern, Editor


The sequencing of micro and macro principles courses differs across institutions. I'm not talking about survey courses, economic policy courses, or other hybrid offerings. I'm talking about the straightforward micro and macro courses using traditional textbooks. There are four ways these micro and macro courses are offered: (1) the two in no particular order, (2) micro required before macro, (3) macro required before micro, and (4) the two combined into a one-term accelerated course. To get some idea about patterns across the country, I examined requirements for a sample of 32 higher education institutions, including all eight Ivies (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale); eight elite liberal-arts colleges (Amherst, Holy Cross, Pomona, Oberlin, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams); eight large public universities (UC-Berkeley, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Texas, UCLA, and Virginia); and eight large public community colleges (Glendale, Houston, Macomb, Mesa, Miami Dade, Monroe, Northern Virginia, and Portland).

Thirteen of the 32 institutions allow students to take micro and macro in either order (2 Ivies, 1 elite, 5 state, and 5 community). Eight require that micro be taken before macro (3 Ivies, 2 elites, 2 state, and 1 community). Three require macro be taken before micro (1 elite and 2 community). And 8 institutions offer only a one-term principles course covering both micro and macro (3 Ivies, 4 elites, and 1 state). This one-term course is principles on steroids, covering most chapters in a standard textbook. This is not the one-term survey course offered as another option at most institutions.

Note that at 5 of 8 state universities and 5 of 8 community colleges in the sample the courses may be taken in either order. If my sample is representative of state universities and community colleges more generally, chances are that most students in the country can take the intro courses in either order. Allowing the principles courses to be taken in either order gives students added flexibility in scheduling, but this convenience comes at a cost. Because the introductory chapters must be offered with both courses, students who take both courses sometimes spend weeks repeating material. Such time may pre-empt coverage of later chapters, especially policy and international chapters.

If your institution allows micro and macro to be taken in either order, you should consider the cost of this flexibility. Requiring one course to be taken before the other would save time. Of the 11 institutions in the sample that require the courses be taken in order, 8 require micro first and 3 require macro first. I'm less concerned with which one should go first than that one should go first. Despite the micro-foundations-of-macro drive, the only study I'm aware of that looked at the impact of the order found that students performed better when macro was first (see Jane Lopus and Nan Maxwell, "Should We Teach Microeconomic Principles Before Macroeconomic Principles?" Economic Inquiry, 2, 1995, pp. 336-350).

Top                                                                                                                                                                                          Next