By Berber Jin
International students majoring in economics are now eligible to stay an extra two years in the United States after graduation. The change follows approval of the economics department’s request to change its federal CIP code, which is used to classify academic disciplines, from “economics, general” to “econometrics and quantitative economics,” according to a department-wide email sent last week on behalf of Student Services Officer Joanne DeMarchena. Despite its new STEM designation, the undergraduate degree will remain a Bachelor of Arts.
Though the Department of Homeland Security’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension allows all international students to remain in the country for one year after completing their degree, these students must leave immediately afterward unless they receive some sort of work extension. The CIP code change makes international economics students eligible for one such extension — the STEM OPT extension, which extends another two years of resident status to students with STEM degrees.
More than 1,000 Stanford students apply for regular OPT every year, and about 300 apply for STEM OPT, according to Shalini Bhutani, Assistant Vice Provost of Student Affairs for the Bechtel International Center.
Eligibility for the STEM OPT extension addresses a concern among international economics students who have cited difficulty in finding post-graduation work in the United States under the assumption that they can stay in the country for only one more year. Economics major Mansi Jain ’19, who is originally from India, said she thinks she would return to India for post-graduation work if not for the three-year extension.
“I think having a three-year visa versus a one-year visa is a big difference,” Jain said. “I feel like I can take so many more risks right now, [since] with a one-year visa, you have to have a job pretty much from the beginning and illustrate your value so that [your company] sponsors you … but you don’t get any chance to move around and figure out what works for you.”
Jain also said the extra 60 days of unemployment given during the 24-month STEM OPT extension — which supplements the 90-day maximum period allowed during the initial OPT — gives students more time to transition between jobs and reflect on career choices.
Recruiters of top international students who are considering options in the United States and other countries have long complained that the limited options for postgraduate work in the country places American colleges and universities at a disadvantage. As peer institutions like Princeton, Brown, MIT, Yale, and Columbia have moved to change their CIP codes in the past few years, further indecision by Stanford threatened its ability to attract talent from abroad, Bhutani said.
“I’m aware of a few cases where international students have taken STEM eligibility — in terms of the CIP code of their the prospective major — into consideration before accepting an offer admission,” she added.
The change in CIP code classification to “econometrics and quantitative economics” was finalized by Stanford’s Institutional Research & Decision Support (IR&DS) after the economics department requested a review of the undergraduate curriculum. Bechtel also conducted research on the effects of CIP changes among Stanford’s Ivy Plus peers and shared its results with IR&DS.
“The new classification more closely corresponds to the quantitative and analytic nature of our programs,” read the department email making the initial announcement, which also stressed that undergraduate courses and major/minor requirements would remain the same after the change.
Jain said she believed the CIP code change accurately reflects the quantitative nature of Stanford’s undergraduate economics program.
“I think we do emphasize a lot of math skills and econometrics, and if other universities are able to count that as a quantitative degree, I don’t see any reason why [Stanford] shouldn’t,” she said.
All Stanford economics majors are required to take two econometrics classes (ECON 102A and 102B), two microeconomics classes (ECON 50 and 51) and one macroeconomics class (ECON 52). While the econometrics sequence focuses on probabilistic modeling and regression analysis, the micro and macroeconomics part of the core emphasizes mathematical models for a variety of economic phenomena.