Only 13 black economics professors teach undergraduates at the nation’s 25 highest ranking universities, according to a recent survey conducted by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE). This represents approximately one percent of the total number of economics professors at these schools. Twelve years ago, a survey of the same universities found 11 black economists.
Harvard is no exception to the trend, with Caroline M. Hoxby ’88 as its only black economics professor.
Prejudice against black economists does not seem to be at the root of the problem, according to the study.
JBHE data reported that the low number of black economists at the university level was due to the scarcity of blacks in economics graduate programs, with only about 20 blacks each year receiving PhDs in economics. According to the study, universities are forced to compete for these candidates with major corporations offering lucrative contracts.
Brown University economics professor Glenn C. Loury, the first black professor to be tenured at Harvard, said he doesn’t think universities are reluctant to let in African Americans but that the culprit is the lack of qualified candidates.
“The constraint here is on the supply side,” he said. “The problem is that the universities are producing relatively few black American graduates who are both interested in economics and qualified to study at the top programs.”
Loury said he sees the lack of black economists as part of a greater trend that not enough Americans are entering economics PhD programs in general.
“I would try to put this issue in the context of a larger problem of American undergraduate education preparing relatively fewer of our own students for graduate studies in the most technically demanding fields,” he said.
Susan M. Collins ’80, a black economics professor at Georgetown, said she thinks the best way to increase the number of black economics professors is to increase the number of black economics students.
“Intervention needs to be much earlier in the pipeline to increase the pool,” she said. “The more productive way to address the broader problem is to focus on ways to increase the number of black economics graduate students instead of having universities compete for the same very small number of people in the pool.”
President of the Black Students Association Nneka C. Eze ’07, who is an economics concentrator, said she believes that one way to increase the pool of black professorial economics candidates would be to institute a mentorship program for black economics students.
“Whether it’s a mentor-mentee relationship, or conducting research, just having contact with an economist lets you see what it’s about,” she said. “If you don’t have this option early on, black students will not see graduate school as a viable option.”
Eze said she is hopeful for a future increase in the number of blacks in economics.
“The generation of professors right now are people who were in college ten, twenty years ago or longer. You hope that there will be more black graduate students in economics in the future because there are now more undergrads studying economics.”