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Economics Department will match declaring majors to advisors randomly

Henry Loomis

The Grinnell Economics Department has introduced a new policy to match declaring economics majors with advisors through randomization. The change will be implemented in the spring 2024 semester.

Eric Ohrn, department chair of economics, wrote in an email to the S&B that the decision for this new policy was made on May 22, 2022. He said that at the beginning of the spring semester, the department will email an online form to students who have not already declared an economics major and who have taken an economics course in the past. “Any student who wishes to declare an economics major simply needs to fill out that form by February 1 and they will be matched with an available advisor,” Ohrn wrote. 

Ohrn said that he believes many benefits will arise from this new system. Most notably, he said that he thinks it will cause students less stress and take less of students’ time as they declare their major. 

This new system aims to address an issue with which the department has previously struggled — students flocking to the faculty members who teach more intro-level classes, creating an unequal distribution of advisees and overloading certain professors. As a result, students would often be turned down by one or more professors during their hunt for an advisor, Ohrn wrote.

“We heard over and over again from students that they found the old system to be frustrating, stressful and time-consuming,” said Ohrn. He wrote that in comparison, “the new process is straightforward and places much less burden on students than the old system.” 

However, several students have expressed significant concerns about randomization as a method for matching students with advisors. 

Jada Fife `24 said she feels that, as an economics major with a narrower field of interest within the department, it can be formative for students to find advisors who specialize in their area of interest. Fife also said that there is a strong possibility she would not have majored in economics if she had been unable to declare with her advisor, Tamara McGavock, associate professor, with whom she said she had developed a relationship of trust and understanding prior to declaring. 

Max Worth `24, Fife, and Ohrn raised competing issues of how the process of matching advisees with advisors could impact equity in the department. Ohrn wrote, “The old system preferenced students coming from privileged backgrounds who were more comfortable approaching faculty.” He wrote that he hopes the new system will “lower barriers for students who are less comfortable approaching faculty members, potentially diversifying the economics major.” 

I am mostly frustrated with the fact that we’re not allowed to declare until their second semester — I think that puts us at a disadvantage compared to other majors, especially when choosing courses. 

— Sydney Weller `26

However, Worth, a member of the economics Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC), and Fife voiced concerns about the new system’s impact on equity in the department. Fife said, “Because econ [economics] is one of the fields that has the worst gender ratio, the worst representation of people of color — I think that advising can really act as a tool to rectify that through mentorships. I feel like if I was kind of assigned to some random advisor, I might not feel that sense of security since we’re starting out with a place where econ doesn’t feel as secure for all folks.”

Intended economics majors Ella Downs `26 and Sydney Weller `26 expressed disappointment that they will not get to choose their advisor and concern that they have to wait until the spring semester of their second year to declare. Weller said, “I am mostly frustrated with the fact that we’re not allowed to declare until their second semester — I think that puts us at a disadvantage compared to other majors, especially when choosing courses.” 

Ohrn, however, wrote that this limit would curb inequities created by the previous system which gave class precedence to students who declared their economics major early, “That system was unfair to those who were still unsure about whether they wanted to major in economics. These students were crowded out of economics classes, making their decision even more complicated.” 

Worth said that no matter a student’s advisor, they still have access to other professors in the department, perhaps decreasing the significance of randomization. “You can walk into any professor’s office and you can get help. The actual letter of advising is not very integral.” 

Ohrn wrote that he expects the new system to continue to evolve in response to student feedback, “Moving forward, the department will fine-tune the process. In doing so, we will put substantial weight on student experiences with the new system.”

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About the Contributors
Bea Crist
Bea Crist, Staff Writer
Beatrice is a third-year English and theatre double major from Durham, North Carolina. Academically, she enjoys exploring the intersections of history and literature. When she’s not writing, she loves listening to Gillian Welch, discovering new foods to put Cholula on, and impulsively painting her belongings.
Henry Loomis
Henry Loomis, Graphic Designer
Henry Loomis is a second-year studio art major from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  He loves books, trees, the artist Ellen Gallagher, movies, but especially queer films involving the ocean, and grows more obsessed with Joanna Newsom every day (the songs seem long, but he promises they’re engaging).
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