By DEBRAH MISZAK
EAST LANSING, Mich. — There is a new push by international students and the Economics Department at Michigan State University to change the bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in economics to science majors.
This change would allow international students more time to stay in the United States after graduation — up to three years instead of one — to find a company to sponsor their work visas, advocates say.
The move comes after a recent unanimous vote in the student government — ASMSU — to advocate for the change. The bill was sponsored by International Students Association representative Asif Iftekhar and College of Business representative Jiahao She who is an international student as well.
While the student government can advocate for the change, it falls on the shoulders of the Economics Department to make it happen. The department has agreed to include the change to make both the bachelors and masters programs science degrees in its upcoming budget proposal to the university administration.
Classifying the degrees as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degrees makes sense, Iftekhar says, because the programs already include enough math courses to change the classification. The university administration’s approval would change the classification of the degree at the federal-level code through the Department of Homeland Security’s Student Exchange and Visitor Program.
“Every degree at MSU is assigned a code by the Department of Homeland Security, and this code affects international students,” Iftekhar said.
It also would give international economics students a better chance of staying in the United States for an extended period after they graduate, Iftekhar said.
“And they also have better chances of trying their luck in the H1-B visa lottery,” Iftekhar said, referring to the competitive U.S. work visa program, which grants only 65,000 per year through a random lottery, according to path2usa.com, a website that outlines the U.S. immigration process. “That gives them a better chance of kick-starting their careers in the United States, and that will help a huge subset of international students at MSU.”
The Economics Department was receptive to the proposal.
“I actually communicated with the academic advisors, and they were really cooperative and really open and they very readily added a bachelor of science in economics degree to their proposal to change the codes for the economics degrees,” Iftekhar said.
“That makes them more competitive for actually getting a sponsorship in the long run because they get more time to connect, find work and find companies that will sponsor them,” Iftekhar said.
MSU would not be the first university to make such a change. The University of Pennsylvania offers both a B.A. and a B.S. in economics. Yale University, Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all made the transition to classify economics as a STEM degree due to its appeal to international students.
There are many reasons international students want to stay in the United States to find work for more than a year.
Iftekhar said, “One reason could be that their opportunities back home might not be as good as they are in the U.S. The job market might be really oversaturated.”
Additionally, it can help students look more competitive if they return to their home countries.
She said, “In China where I’m from, if you study abroad and get work experience in another country, it can help you look impressive to potential employers in China if you do want to return.
Iftekhar said “Even so, it’s not that a lot of students just want to stay in the United States instead of going back. It’s that they want to work for awhile in the U.S. after graduation and get work experiences, and then go back to their home country or other countries to travel a bit more.”