Why an Applied Economics Degree?
Economics is the study of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. While economics can be highly theoretical, many economists apply their knowledge and skills to problems in healthcare, labor, agriculture, education, and sustainability. Economists study why the price of gas, food, or healthcare fluctuates, and what to do about it. They also research how to make our economic system environmentally sustainable.
Applied economics focuses on real-world application and policy-making, rather than pure research. Environmental economists, for example, study the relationships between economic activity, public policy, and environmental issues. They examine the economics of natural resource use, resource allocation, climate change, population growth, global trade, and more. Applied environmental and natural resource economists submit their recommendations to decision-makers at corporations, nonprofits, and public agencies.
It's an interesting time to be an economist. Globalization, disruptive new technologies, environmental challenges, and other forces are changing business as usual, and having a significant impact on our economic system.
Bachelor's Programs in Applied Economics
Most bachelor's programs in economics are generalized; applied economics programs are usually found at the graduate level. However, there are a few undergraduate programs within the United States. These programs typically require foundational courses on economic theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and statistical methods, in addition to introductory business courses on other subjects. Schools may or may not offer concentrations in environmental and natural resource economics specifically.
Cornell University's Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in Ithaca, New York offers a Bachelor of Science in Applied Economics and Management with a concentration in Environmental, Energy, and Resource Economics. Due to the Dyson School's integration with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, students can choose from a number of concentrations, and easily double major in environmental sciences. This organizational structure gives graduates a holistic, interdisciplinary worldview.
Students complete 120 credit hours, including required introductory business classes on accounting, marketing, management, and business law. They must take basic courses on microeconomics, macroeconomics, and managerial economics, as well as six courses on quantitative methods. One of these courses, Excursions in Computational Sustainability, deals specifically with quantitative methods for environmental economics. Students pursuing the environmental concentration go on to take more advanced courses on Environmental and Resource Economics, Resource Economics, and Environmental Economics.
Graduates are prepared for practical careers that make an impact on issues in sustainability, energy, the food system, and global trade.
Master of Science in Applied Economics - Natural Resources and Environmental Economics
An advanced degree is required for the vast majority of economist positions. Many economists who wish to conduct research at colleges, universities, and think tanks pursue a generalized master's degree or Ph.D. in economics. However, an M.S. in applied economics can be an excellent alternative for students who want to apply their knowledge to environmental issues.
Most graduate programs accept applicants with a bachelor's degree in any field. However, if you already know you're interested in environmental economics it would be helpful to take as many courses in math and statistics as possible prior to applying to graduate school. Classes in business and environmental studies will also be helpful. These courses will provide a solid foundation for your graduate studies, which typically involve advanced quantitative analysis of economic data, and require courses in math, statistics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, and computer modeling. As an aspiring environmental economist, you'll also learn about the relationships between economic activity and the environment.
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland offers a Master of Science in Applied Economics with a concentration in Environmental Economics. This program focuses heavily on econometrics, a field of study that uses math, statistics, and computer science to analyze economic data and extract relationships. Students complete 10 courses, either in person or online. There are four required courses on Microeconomic Theory, Macroeconomic Theory, Statistics, and Econometrics. Students must then choose a more advanced econometric course on Microeconometrics or Macroeconometrics, as well as five electives. Students who plan to enroll in a Ph.D. program or demonstrate research skills may add a thesis option.
This very flexible program allows students to customize their plans of study and specialize in one of several sub-fields. They can also select courses from multiple areas, including:
- Public Policy
- Financial Economics and the Macroeconomy
- International Economics and Development
- Spatial Economics
- Environmental Economics
- Health Economics
- Economics of National Security
- Quantitative Methods
In addition to core courses, students following the Environmental Economics track take Environmental and Resource Economics, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Computable General Equilibrium Modeling, which is widely used in the field. Up to two courses from the Environmental Science and Policy, Energy and Climate Change, Geographic Information Systems, Environmental Planning and Management, and Engineering programs can count towards the electives.
Each customized course of study gives graduates a solid background in data analysis and interpretation, and prepares them to apply their conclusions to real-world problems. The environmental economics track prepares students to make meaningful contributions to corporate social responsibility and public policy.
Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester offers an online Master of Science in Applied Economics with a concentration in Natural Resources and Environmental Economics. This program teaches students to understand the root economic causes of environmental issues, analyze associated data, and model solutions.
Students in SNHU's program take courses in environmental and natural resources economics, environmental issues, environmental compliance and sustainability, math, statistics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, game theory (as applied to industrial organizations), and applied econometrics. A capstone course in applied economics is also required.
Graduates will be able to understand the underlying economic causes and effects of environmental problems such as climate change and resource depletion. They'll develop the skills to analyze the economic impacts of environmental policies and problems, and manage the economic data. Most importantly, graduates will be able to develop different economic models to find solutions. Alumni will be prepared for careers in organizations that conduct research in environmental economics, as well as several private sector industries.
Doctoral Degrees in Applied Economics
In most fields, doctoral degrees are only required for faculty positions. However, due to the central role of research and data in both theoretical and applied economics, advanced degrees are common in this profession. Ph.D. programs in applied economics teach research techniques and place significant emphasis on data analytics. Candidates generally take courses on advanced quantitative methods before completing a dissertation.
Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon offers a Ph.D. in Applied Economics with a concentration in Natural Resource and Environmental Economics. The program integrates economic theory, quantitative methods, and real-world context to produce graduates skilled at both research and practical applications of economics. In addition to faculty from the Applied Economics department, the program draws upon faculty in the Departments of Forest Ecosystems and Society and Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management.
OSU's program focuses on quantitative analysis of environmental issues. Students take required courses in microeconomic and macroeconomic theory, in addition to rigorous coursework in econometrics and analytical techniques. They must take three courses in Natural Resource and Environmental Economics, including Spatial Economics of Natural Resources and Valuation of Non-market Resources. Three courses in Development and Trade are also required.
Graduates are prepared for analytical careers in academia, industry, and policy.
Career Tracks and Employment
Most economists work for public agencies in federal and state government. Environment and natural resource economists work for agencies that deal wildlife, public lands, the environment, or budget development. Larger environmental consulting firms are also now beginning to hire economists. Professionals in these positions help determine the financial and environmental costs of development projects, and help project managers mitigate those costs. Some work for nonprofits, where they analyze the environmental costs and benefits of proposed laws, regulations, and alternative energy sources.
Economists work in offices, and sometimes teach in university classrooms. Some economists are employed as project managers for development initiatives backed by large organizations such as the World Bank and U.S. Aid. These positions may involve travel to overseas destinations.
Economists enjoyed a high average salary of $93,070 in 2013. And while jobs with the federal government are expected to decline, overall employment of economists is projected to grow 8-14% through 2022, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.
However, bear in mind that the majority of economists have doctoral degrees. Study beyond the Master of Science in Applied Economics - Natural Resources and Environmental Economics may be required for higher-paying jobs. Positions in business often require relevant work experience in addition to a graduate degree. Seek out internships to gain practical experience in economic analysis.