The best statement of what an economics major should learn at Middlebury is expressed in a set of proficiencies laid out by Lee Hansen in a book on the economics major, edited by David Colander and KimMarie McGoldrick.

  1. Accessing existing knowledge by retrieving, assembling, and organizing information on particular topics and issues in economics. Examples include the following:
    • Locating published research in economics and related fields.
    • Tracking down economic data and data sources.
    • Finding information about the generation, construction, and meaning of economic data.
  2. Displaying command of existing knowledge by explaining key economics theories and concepts, and describing how they can be used. Examples include the following:
    • Writing a précis or summary of a published journal article.
    • Summarizing in a short monologue or written statement what is known about the current condition of the economy and the economic outlook.
    • Summarizing the principal ideas of an eminent economist.
    • Summarizing a current controversy in the economics literature.
    • Stating succinctly the economic dimension of a current policy issue.
  3. Interpreting existing knowledge. Examples include the following:
    • Explaining and evaluating what economic concepts and principles are used in economic analyses published in articles from daily newspapers and weekly news magazines.
    • Doing the same for nontechnical analyses written by economists for general purpose publications.
    • Reading and interpreting a theoretical analysis, which includes simple mathematical derivations, reported in an economics journal article.
  4. Interpreting and manipulating quantitative data. Examples include the following:
    • Explaining how to understand and interpret numerical data found in published tables such as those in the annual Economic Report of the President.
    • Being able to identify patterns and trends in published data such as those found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
    • Constructing tables from already available data to illustrate an economic issue.
    • Describing the relationship among several different quantitative measures (e.g., unemployment, prices, and GDP).
    • Explaining how to perform and interpret a regression analysis that uses economic data such as what might appear in an economics journal article.
  5. Applying existing knowledge. Examples include the following:
    • Preparing an organized, clearly written analysis of a current economic problem.
    • Assessing in a short paper the costs and benefits of an economic policy proposal.
    • Preparing a short memorandum that recommends some action on an economic decision faced by an organization.
    • Writing an op-ed essay on some local economic issue.
  6. Creating new knowledge by identifying and formulating a question or series of questions about some economic issue that will facilitate its investigation. Examples include the following:
    • Synthesizing the literature on a topic to determine gaps in our existing knowledge and how those gaps might best be filled.
    • Preparing a proposal describing a potentially useful research project and how that project might be undertaken.
    • Completing a research study with its results contained in a carefully edited paper or undergraduate thesis.
    • Engaging in a group research project that prepares a detailed research proposal and/or a finished research paper.
  7. Questing for knowledge and understanding. Examples include the following:
    • Demonstrating an understanding of questions that stimulate productive discussion of economic issues and help keep discussions centered on the issue under discussion.
    • Developing a line of questions that probe the meaning or seek to interpret the meaning of a reading selection written by a well-known economist.
    • Showing how a questioning approach can get to the heart of substantive issues by focusing, for example, on the equity and efficiency implications of alternative arrangements, policies, and programs (e.g., What are the benefits? What are the costs? How do the benefits and costs compare? Who pays? Who gains?).