Economics 321

Economics of Reed College
Jeffrey Parker & Jon Rivenburg
Fall 2011

Course Information

Table of Contents

Course Content

As its title suggests, this seminar will focus on the economic environment of Reed College and how Reed operates in that environment. We will read extensively in the literature on the economics of higher education, focusing on those aspects that are most relevant to Reed and other liberal-arts colleges. Among the topics we shall examine are the demand for a Reed education (including Reed's admissions and financial aid policies), acquiring and managing an endowment, the market for faculty and staff, and the allocation of resources within the college. When we look at each topic, we shall first read existing literature covering theories and evidence from the higher-education industry, then examine quantitative data for Reed and often discuss the issues with relevant members of Reed's administrative staff.

Class Format

We will meet twice per week. The Wednesday evening session will focus on detailed discussion of the readings. This class session will often be divided into two parts with different activities. The Thursday noon session will be activity oriented and will often involve visiting speakers. Students will often be assigned to make or discuss presentations of selected papers. The class will be conducted as a conference. Dr. Jon Rivenburg, formerly Reed's Director of Institutional Research, will participate in the class and provide detailed information about Reed.


The basic prerequisite is sufficient background in economics to understand the readings and assignments. Economics 201 provides the basic background, but additional coursework in economics would also be useful.

Office Hours

Professor Parker will hold office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:00 in Vollum 229. If these times are not convenient, you may contact Professor Parker via email or at extension 7308 to arrange an appointment. You may make an appointment to consult with Dr. Rivenburg via email.

Required Work

There will be short written assignments or projects due periodically during the first part of the semester. These will relate either to analysis of data for Reed and comparable institutions or to specific assigned readings. Most of the assignments will be short essays.

As discussed below, most students will be asked to write summaries of one or two papers each week. These summaries will be submitted in a prescribed format on the class Moodle site.

A final project will be assigned during the latter part of the semester. In this project, students will work in small groups on a specific Reed policy scenario (e. g., enrollment shortfall, loss of endowment value, potential expansion of the target student body size, change in student/faculty ratio, building additional dorms). Each group must prepare a strategy proposal and budget for their scenario and present their proposal to a "Board of Trustees" consisting of the instructors and perhaps other members of the Reed community during final exam week.

There will be a take-home mid-term exam and there may be a final exam of some kind in addition to the final project.


Grades will be based on all evidence available to the instructors about each student's understanding of economics. This information may come from written assignments, exams, the final project, class participation, and individual conversations.

Assigned Readings

Readings will be taken from economics journals, materials written for professionals in educational administration, books, and other sources. Most readings are available through online sources and have links from the reading list. Books and papers that are not available electronically will be available on reserve in the Reed Library.

There is much more material that is relevant to each week's topic than all students will have time to read. To cope with this surplus, readings are divided into two groups: Required readings that all students must read and distributed readings that will be read by a subset of students. For required readings, all students will be expected to have read the material and to contribute insights based on it during class discussion. For distributed readings, three students will sign up to read each paper or chapter. Each of the three students is to submit a summary of the paper in a prescribed format through the class Moodle site. (Other students may submit summaries if they have time to read the papers as well.) These summaries must be submitted at least 48 hours before the class session in which the paper is to be discussed. The other members of the class will then read the summaries rather than reading the full papers. When reading and summarizing papers, you may want to emphasize the elements suggested in this guide to reading economics papers.

Preparing for Class

Most class sessions will be true conferences, not the "interruptible lecture" format that is common in some economics classes. This format presupposes that all students have read the required materials and are prepared to participate in the discussion. A considerable part of your course grade will be based on the effectiveness of your contributions to class discussions.

To facilitate class discussion, each student should come to each class session with a list of approximately five points, questions, or quotations from the readings that he or she believes are important. During conferences, individual students may be asked for points from their lists to lead the discussion forward.