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MA in International Economics

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U.S. Treasury building
The International Economics MA prepares students for positions at organizations like the U.S. Treasury.

For students seeking a rigorous program that will prepare them for careers as economists with such organizations as the World Bank, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments, or else in multinational financial institutions, AU’s innovative new MA in International Economics could be just the ticket. 

A unique collaboration between the Economics Department in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of International Service’s International Economics Relations Program, the new master’s degree offers a track to careers at government agencies, financial institutions, think tanks, industry associations, and other companies that need international economics expertise. 

The program, which starts this fall, also offers a BA/MA option that can be completed in five years. 

With coursework balanced between theoretical, empirical, and policy-oriented economics, as well as political economy, international trade, and finance-focused policymaking, the program has few direct competitors in a smattering of European universities. Some U.S. schools offer master’s degrees in economics or international affairs that draw on both disciplines. But no domestic program approaches the focus and depth of American University’s new program. 

“AU has a lot of strength in the theory and practice of international economics,” says program codirector Kara Reynolds, associate professor in AU’s Economics Department. “This program is designed for students who want to be involved with some of the big players, whether it is the multilateral development banks, the global economic-governance institutions, and multinational corporations. The technical skills of the economics degree will provide students with all of the quantitative training that is expected nowadays, especially in econometrics. They’re also going to get the theoretical foundations of international economics as well as exposure to the institutional, political-economy, and policy aspects necessary to understand and analyze the key issues.” 

The 39-credit-hour program is intensely focused. It requires 15 credit hours in economic theory, 6 credit hours in international economic theory, 9 credit hours in international political economy and international trade and investment policy, 6 credit hours in research and methodology, and 9 credit hours in other elective courses including a capstone project. 

Students choosing the BA/MA option can apply up to 15 credits of their undergraduate courses to the new MA in International Economics. 

The program’s capstone project is either a rigorously researched paper supervised by faculty in the Economics Department or a practicum, which is a team assignment for an outside client such as a private company or a government agency, offered by SIS. Students choosing the research paper option will have had two semesters learning the tools of econometrics, Reynolds notes, so they will be well prepared to conduct in-depth empirical research. 

In the practicum option, students will be part of a faculty-supervised team working on a specific project at a company, government agency, or NGO. Recent practicums sponsored by the International Economic Relations program include an assessment of how best to expand the overseas operations of National Geographic and an advisory consultancy focused on Myanmar’s policy regime to attract foreign investment. 

Students who complete the rigorous new program will have the tools to analyze essential issues in the global economy, from the macro- and microeconomic elements of trade and financial liberalization to exchange rate fluctuations to the functioning and integration of global capital markets. 

A Credential for the Fast Track 

Giving students a credential that allows them to specialize at the master’s level is one of the program’s chief innovations, notes codirector Arturo C. Porzecanski, distinguished economist in residence and director of SIS’s International Economic Relations Program. In this regard, the program mirrors the approach taken by professional schools such as AU’s Kogod School of Business, which besides offering an all-purpose MBA, for example, also offers MS degrees in specialties such as finance and accounting. The big difference is the extent of collaboration in the new degree between SIS and the College of Arts and Sciences for the benefit of students, who will be exposed to theoretical, policy and practical issues in international economics. 

Porzecanski says a strong market exists for the MA in International Economics, both from domestic and international employers, and for students who want a more specialized educational experience at the graduate level. 

“I think there is interest among students to get a better-paying job and to do it earlier in their career,” he says. “They don’t want to wait till they’re in their mid-30s to get a lucrative job but, if possible, they want to do this when they’re in their late 20s already. Certain employers will continue to hire only PhD economists, but there’s a much larger market for people who are really well trained and obtained a focused master’s degree.” 

Porzecanski acknowledges that the new program’s mostly “eat-your-spinach” approach isn’t for everybody. 

“If you want a little bit of everything, if you want the smorgasbord approach, we still offer the generic master’s in economics, of course; we still offer a generic master’s in international affairs with some degree of specialization” he says. “But for those who are focused and know what they want, we are now offering a fast-track to a career in international economics.”