Becker Friedman Institute launches summer institute to expand diversity in economics

New undergraduate program offers opportunities for skill-building, networking; March 14 deadline

Economics can help us answer many critical questions: Why are some countries rich while others are poor? How can we close achievement gaps in education and income among races? What is the most efficient approach to expanding health insurance coverage?

These are just a small sample of the urgent questions academic economists are working on today—all of which would benefit from a broad range of approaches and perspectives. Yet, there is little diversity among undergraduate economics majors compared to other fields: Women account for 28.4% of the nation’s economics majors, according to a recent study, while just 14.7% of economics majors are Black, Hispanic or Native American.

The Becker Friedman Institute for Economics (BFI) at the University of Chicago has opened applications for a first-of-its-kind, three-week Summer Institute, Expanding Diversity in Economics, designed to attract extraordinary students from colleges and universities around the country who would not otherwise consider studying economics. The goal of the program—which will be held virtually this year from July 18 to Aug. 6—is to diversify the pool of undergraduate students majoring in economics, who may go on to a graduate program of study or a career drawing on this important set of skills.

The deadline for applications is March 14.

“We decided that we wanted to do something about economics’ diversity problem and that there was no better time than now for doing it,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and director of BFI. “Economics is such a powerful tool for understanding the world, but our potential contribution is limited if only a subset of undergraduates choose it as a major. Through its dynamic curriculum and supportive community, we believe the Summer Institute will make economics appealing to a broader set of students who down the line will pose and answer questions that expand the field and our understanding about the world.”

Each year, BFI will accept up to 40 participants to the Summer Institute, who will engage in daily lectures and skill-building coursework as well as other activities to promote networking. The program is open to undergraduate students age 18 and older from accredited institutions. For students accepted to the Summer Institute, BFI will provide a stipend of $1,200. Participants who are Pell Grant recipients will receive a stipend of $2,400.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and public safety concerns, the 2021 Summer Institute will be held virtually. In future years, BFI will cover costs of travel and housing for Summer Institute participants for on-campus programing.

Participants will be exposed to a range of economic topics taught by a broad group of economists from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, and the Harris School of Public Policy, in addition to high-profile outside guests. The Summer Institute will also promote a mentoring network, linking participants with faculty for guidance and support, and providing opportunities for ongoing research experience during the academic year

“We look forward to exposing these promising students to the world-class faculty and research at the University of Chicago and all that economics has to offer,” said Madhav Rajan, dean of the Booth School of Business and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting. “In recent years, we’ve seen other STEM fields achieve success in increasing their diversity. Given the stakes, we look forward to addressing this challenge in economics at the earliest stages of matriculation.”

BFI’s Expanding Diversity in Economics has been made possible through partnerships with the Booth School of Business and Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, as well as generous support from Northern Trust.

“There’s no question that economics needs a more diverse set of perspectives,” said Jason Tyler, chief financial officer at Northern Trust and a member of the BFI advisory council. “This effort by BFI engages students early in their college careers, and that is crucially important as we seek to broaden the range of talent entering a field with a long track record of opening doors.”

The Summer Institute will cover three main areas of study drawing on the expertise of University of Chicago faculty:

  • Building an Economic Toolkit. Drawing from UChicago’s unique approach to economics education, students will build an analytical toolkit through coursework on Price Theory.
  • The Power of Combining Economics and Data. Participants will learn how the widespread availability of data is transforming the kinds of observations economics can make about the world.
  • Using Economics to Answer Big Questions. Woven into the curriculum will be an interactive luncheon series led by UChicago scholars who produce cutting-edge research on a range of topics, such as climate change, poverty and inequality, and global trade.

For more information and to apply, visit the BFI website.