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Amherst Grad Wins Nobel Prize in Economics

Edmund Phelps, Amherst ’55, just won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Given the quality of Williams’ Economics department, I started wondering if a Williams graduate had won the same prize, and found that Robert Engle ’64 did, back in 2003. However, my Economics department theory was wrong — he was a Physics major. In the press release issued by NYU, it notes that his idea of a grand time as a teenager was to bike over to the Swarthmore College Library during the summer and read physics books.

Any other Williams College-educated Nobel Prize winners that people know of? Wikipedia doesn’t list any, although it does list Robert Engle as a winner.

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#1 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2006 @ 11:25 am

I don’t think that there were any. We would have known.

#2 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2006 @ 11:27 am

BTW, Joe Stiglitz is another econ Nobel who went to Amherst. But, given the number of Williams students going to PhD in econ in the recent years, in next 40 years we should have at least one more Nobel in the field. However, if the hypothetical Nobel does appear (s)he is most likely to have had studied either math or physics at Williams instead of Econ.

#3 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2006 @ 11:59 am

It’s been a good week of Nobel Prize winners for liberal arts college grads. In addition to an Amherst grad winning for the fourth time, the fifth Swarthmore grad, John Mather ’68, won a Nobel prize for his work on the big bang theory.

This is Amherst’s second Nobel winner in the last five years, joining Robert Stiglitz, who won the Economics prize in 2001.

This is Swarthmore’s second in three years with the Edward C. Prescott, math major ’62 winning the 2004 Economics prize.

#4 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2006 @ 12:08 pm

Williams is tied for second (with Grinnell and Carleton) with the highest percentage of total graduates going on to get PhDs in Economics over the most recent 10 year period:

Number of PhDs per 1000 grads

Academic field: Economics

PhDs and Doctoral Degrees:
ten years (1994 to 2003) from NSF database

Number of Undergraduates:
ten years (1989 to 1998) from IPEDS database

Note: Does not include colleges with less than 1000 graduates over the ten year period

1 Swarthmore College 16
2 Grinnell College 7
3 Williams College 7
4 Carleton College 7
5 Harvard University 6
6 Agnes Scott College 6
7 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5
8 University of Chicago 5
9 Yale University 5
10 California Institute of Technology 5
11 Princeton University 5
12 Macalester College 5
13 Stanford University 4
14 Pomona College 4
15 Oberlin College 4
16 Wellesley College 4
17 Trinity University 4
18 Bowdoin College 3
19 Earlham College 3
20 Berea College 3
21 Amherst College 3
22 Wabash College 3
23 Bard College 3
24 Rocky Mountain College 3
25 Coe College 3
26 Wesleyan University 3
27 College of William and Mary 3
28 Colby College 3
29 Columbia University in the City of New York 3
30 Hillsdale College 3
31 Franklin and Marshall College 3

#5 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2006 @ 4:11 pm

What on earth is the deal with Swarthmore and econ? They have more than double than the next one on the list?

#6 Comment By Richard Dunn On October 10, 2006 @ 4:28 pm

My first year, we had ’98, ’00, ’01, and ’02 all in residence at Wisconsin, in addition to Prof. Bob Staiger who graduated in the 70’s.

#7 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2006 @ 5:31 pm

What on earth is the deal with Swarthmore and econ? They have more than double than the next one on the list?

Part of it is the fact that Swarthmore is a PhD factory. Here’s the list of top per capita producers over the most recent ten year period with the percentage of ALL graduates going on to get a PhD or equivalent:

Percentage of graduates receiving a doctorate degree.

PhDs and Doctoral Degrees:
ten years (1994 to 2003) from NSF database

Number of Undergraduates: ten years (1989 to 1998) from IPEDS database

Note: Does not include colleges with less than 1000 graduates over the ten year period

Note: Includes all NSF doctoral degrees inc. PhD, Divinity, etc., but not M.D. or Law.

1 California Institute of Technology 35.8%
2 Harvey Mudd College 24.7%
3 Swarthmore College 21.1%
4 Reed College 19.9%
5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 18.3%
6 Carleton College 16.8%
7 Bryn Mawr College 15.8%
8 Oberlin College 15.7%
9 University of Chicago 15.3%
10 Yale University 14.5%
11 Princeton University 14.3%
12 Harvard University 14.3%
13 Grinnell College 14.1%
14 Haverford College 13.8%
15 Pomona College 13.8%
16 Rice University 13.1%
17 Williams College 12.7%
18 Amherst College 12.4%
19 Stanford University 11.4%
20 Kalamazoo College 11.3%
21 Wesleyan University 11.0%
22 St John’s College (both campus) 10.6%
23 Brown University 10.6%
24 Wellesley College 10.4%
25 Earlham College 10.0%

So, Swarthmore is at or near the top of the list in just about every field. It extends even to departments that aren’t particularly noted. For example, Swarthmore produces nearly double the per capita rate of doctorates in Arts and Music as Williams does. Why? Probably has a lot to do with the nature of the unique Honors program which involves small seminars and written/oral examinations by outside experts in each of four areas of preparation to be awarded the honors designation. Students in the Honors track at Swarthmore have a college academic experience that is very grad school-like.

The second part is that Social Sciences have been a particular specialty. In addition to Econ, Swarthmore has also been the #1 per capita producer of PhDs in Political Science, #1 in Sociology, #2 in Psychology, #3 in Linguistics, and #1 in Social Sciences overall.

The Econ department has been a powerhouse for a long time, most recently under Prof. Bernard Saffran for 37 years, so that explains the wide gap in PhD production in that particular field.

#8 Comment By Anonymous On October 10, 2006 @ 6:10 pm

Yeah, although Williams econ department has had an amazing placement in the last 3 years. Virtually everyone has gone to a top 5 school. I think that it has to do a lot with the whole Williams-becoming-a-vocational-school-for-I-bankers thing. A lot of people who do not want to go to industry are nevertheless influenced by the climate on campus, and choose econ over, say, math or physics PhD. The fact that Williams also has a top-notch math department that specialises in analysis/measure theory (as opposed to algebra) also helps.

#9 Comment By hwc On October 10, 2006 @ 6:35 pm

I think the biggest challenge facing Econ departments right now is the excessive number of econ majors. The departments are at risk of being crushed by excess demand. If they ramp up resources to meet today’s spike, they could either get caught out should fashions change down the road or succeed in turning liberal arts colleges into small undergrad business schools.

At the end of the day, the world only needs “x” number of investment bankers.

#10 Comment By Alexander Woo On October 11, 2006 @ 3:06 am

By my count, the Williams math department has 3 analysts and 6 algebraists out of 14 mathematicians (i’m not counting statisticians for this purpose).

This strikes me as about average for pure-math-oriented departments.