# Does Macro/Micro Course Sequencing Affect Student Performance in Principles of Economics Courses?

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4 JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE EDUCATION Volume 2 Number 2 Winter based on prior research. The more quantitative business majors are expected to perform better in the economics classes. With respect to course sequencing, there are three possibilities. Students can take principles of microeconomics prior to taking principles of macroeconomics, they can take principles of macroeconomics prior to taking principles of microeconomics, or they can take the two courses concurrently in a semester. The binary variables First and Concurrent are used to examine the sequencing issue. The variable First is a binary variable that takes on a value of 1 if the student taking macro (micro) principles has taken micro (macro) principles previously. The expected sign is positive. Students who have previously completed either principles class have been exposed to the terminology of economics and the general framework for analysis and thus should perform better in the next class than those who have not had an economics class before. The variable Concurrent is a binary variable that is equal to 1 if the student took the two principles courses concurrently in a semester. Taking the two courses concurrently may lead to possible synergies between the two courses and perhaps impact performance in each. If this is the case, the expected sign on the coefficient is positive. On the other hand, taking the two courses currently may simply result in overlap of material with little resulting synergy. Table 1 summarizes the independent variables and indicates the expected coefficient sign of each. TABLE 1. Model Specification and Expected Coefficient Signs Independent Variable Expected Sign Night? Summer? FT#? Ptngt? GPA + Age? Afam? Other? Gender - Acecfi + First + Concurrent + Notes: Night = binary variable equal to 1 if the student attended the class at night, Summer = binary variable equal to 1 if the student took the class during the summer term, FT# = 1 if taught by full-time microeconomics professors 1 through 3 or full-time macroeconomics professors 1 through 4, Ptngt = binary variable equal to 1 if the class was taught at night by a part-time faculty member, GPA = student s grade point average, Age = student s age, Afam = binary variable taking on a value of 1 if the student is African-American, Other = binary variable equal to 1 if the student is Asian, Hispanic or American Indian, Gender = binary variable equal to 1 if the student is female, Acecfi = binary variable equal to 1 if the student is an accounting, economics or finance major, First = binary variable equal to 1 if the student completed principles of microeconomics prior to taking principles of macroeconomics, and Concurrent = binary variable equal to 1 if the student took principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics concurrently. Table 2, which contains descriptive statistics of the variables, presents variables that are specific to the macroeconomics principles model and specific to the microeconomics principles model, as well as variables that are common to both. With the exception of GPA and Age, the explanatory variables are binary, and the mean represents the proportion of the sample having that characteristic. For example, 12% of the principles of macroeconomics classes were taught in the summer (Summer), while 10% of the principles of microeconomics classes were taught in the summer. Note that Gender takes on a value of 1 if the student is female; 56% of the students were female. TABLE 2. Descriptive Statistics Variables Specific to Each Course Macroeconomic Principles Microeconomic Principles Variable Mean Stand. Dev. Mean Stand. Dev. Grade Night Summer FT FT

5 JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE EDUCATION Volume 2 Number 2 Winter FT FT Ptngt First TABLE 2, cont.. Descriptive Statistics Variables Common to Both Courses Variable Mean Stand. Dev. GPA Age Afam Other Gender Acecfi Concurrent With respect to sequencing (First), approximately 65% of the students who took microeconomics had already taken principles of macroeconomics, while 26% of the students who took macroeconomics had already taken principles of microeconomics. 5 Approximately 8% of the students attended the two principles of economics classes in the same semester. Results Tables 3a and 3b contain the OLS regression results for the principles of macroeconomics and principles of microeconomics models, respectively. Performance in the principles of macroeconomics class was significantly positively related to whether the class was taken in the summer (Summer), to the student s grade point average (GPA), and to whether the student was an accounting, economics or finance major (Acecfi). The last two results are consistent with prior research, while the first result is new. There are a couple of possible explanations. One explanation is that professor expectations and standards are lower in the summer than during the regular fall and spring semesters. A second explanation is that because students are taking significantly fewer courses over a compressed time period they are more focused. 6 TABLE 3a. OLS and Ordered Probit Estimation Results of Macroeconomics Principles Variable OLS Coefficient Ordered Probit (t-stat) Intercept -0.67*** -2.51*** (-3.62) Night (-0.84) Summer 0.23*** 0.36*** (2.67) FT (-0.13) FT (-1.24) FT (-0.57) FT (-0.89) Ptngt One reason that so many more students take principles of macroeconomics first is that it has the lower course number. (Econ 2321 for Principles of Macroeconomics v. Econ 2322 for Principles of Microeconomics) Alternatively, it may be that students self-select macroeconomics first, possibly because they perceive that it is the less difficult of the two. 6 Terry (2002) found this same result in an analysis of performance in the introductory finance course.

6 JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE EDUCATION Volume 2 Number 2 Winter (-1.39) GPA 1.14*** (23.67) Age 0.01 (1.58) Afam 0.03 (0.50) Other (-0.03) Gender -0.16*** (-2.98) Acecfi 0.20*** (3.47) First 0.10 (1.62) Concurrent 0.40*** (4.32) 1.74*** 0.01* *** 0.33*** 0.16* 0.68*** Notes: *** - significant at 1% level; ** - significant at 5% level; * - significant at 10% level. Adj. R 2.45 (OLS model); Sample size: 870 Student performance in macroeconomics was also significantly negatively related to whether the student was female (Gender). The gender result is consistent with much prior research On the other hand, none of the professor-related variables (FT1-4) was important, and Night was equally unimportant. Over 60% of the night macroeconomic classes were taught by several part-time instructors. The gender result is consistent with much prior research. The estimated coefficients on ethnicity (Afam or Other) and Age were also insignificant. The variable First, which indicates the student had taken principles of microeconomics prior to the macroeconomics course, surprisingly was not significant. 7 The estimated coefficient on Concurrent, which indicates the student took principles of macroeconomics and principles of microeconomics in the same semester, is significantly positive, and is the most significant explanatory variable other than GPA. This suggests that the optimal sequence for principles of macroeconomics is to take it concurrently with principles of microeconomics. Table 3b contains the regression results for principles of microeconomics. In microeconomics student performance was significantly positively related to student grade point average (GPA), to whether the student was an accounting, economics or finance major (Acecfi), and to whether the student was Asian, American Indian or Hispanic (Other). The grade point average and student major results are consistent with prior research. TABLE 3b. OLS and Ordered Probit Estimation Results of Microeconomics Principles Variable Coefficient Ordered Probit (t-stat) Intercept *** (-0.07) NIGHT * (1.58) SUMMER (-1.19) FT1 -.64*** -0.85*** (-4.02) FT2-0.60*** (-3.95) -0.80*** 7 In an earlier version of the paper where the authors estimated the model without the CONCURRENT variable the t-stat on FIRST was half that reported in Table 3A.

7 JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE EDUCATION Volume 2 Number 2 Winter FT (-1.19) PTNGT -0.37* (-1.87) GPA 1.04*** (20.16) AGE 0.00 (0.79) AFAM -0.18** (-2.67) OTHER 0.29*** (2.99) GENDER.03 (0.47) ACECFI 0.15*** (2.46) FIRST (-1.03) CONCURRENT 0.43*** (3.93) * 1.45*** ** 0.44*** *** *** Notes: *** - significant at 1% level; ** - significant at 5% level; * - significant at 10% level. Adj. R 2.40 (OLS model); Sample size: 870 Performance in the principles of microeconomics class was significantly negatively related to FT1 and FT2, and to whether the student was African-American (Afam). The first result may be due to part-time instructors inflating grades and/or differential grading by professors. In the microeconomics model Gender, whether the class was taken at night (Night) or in the summer (Summer), whether the class was taught by a part-time instructor at night (Ptngt) and Age were not significant. The coefficient estimates for the variables related to sequencing are interesting. The variable First, indicating the student had taken principles of macroeconomics prior to the microeconomics class, had a negative, though statistically insignificant, estimated coefficient. 9 This is surprising in that the coefficient was expected to be significantly positive. Exposure to a previous economics course was expected to improve performance in the next economics course. One possible explanation is that there is a selfselection bias. That is, perhaps some students perceive that microeconomics is the more difficult of the two principles classes and delay taking microeconomics as long as they can. The mean grade is lower in microeconomics than in macroeconomics, and only 26% of the students attended the principles of microeconomics class first while 65% attended the principles of macroeconomics class first. However, inclusion of GPA should account for the difference in students if this was the explanation. 10 The estimated coefficient for the variable Concurrent, indicating the student took principles of macroeconomics and microeconomics in the same semester, was significantly positive. Only GPA had a more significant impact on performance in the principles of microeconomics class. Because the dependent variable used in the analysis is discrete, with A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, and F=0, the variable may be viewed as being ordinal in nature, and if that is the case an ordered probit analysis 9 In an earlier version of the paper where the authors estimated the principles of microeconomics model without the CONCURRENT variable, the estimated coefficient on FIRST was significantly negative, with a t-stat of Someone has suggested that because the principles of macroeconomics course begins with a microeconomics review, perhaps the students in microeconomics who have previously had principles of macroeconomics are lulled into a false sense of security and fail to capture the more in-depth treatment of microeconomics in the principles of microeconomics class. On the other hand, those who previously had principles of microeconomics coast through the microeconomics review in principles of macroeconomics, but readily recognize the transition to new (macroeconomic) material.

8 JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE EDUCATION Volume 2 Number 2 Winter may be more appropriate. Tables 3a and 3b also include results for an ordered probit estimation of the models. As indicated in Tables 3a and 3b, the models are quite robust to the estimation technique employed. Both the signs and the statistical significance of the explanatory variables are virtually identical for both estimation techniques. The estimation results of the two models have interesting and important implications for the sequencing of the two principles of economics classes. The optimal sequence appears to involve having students take the two economics classes in the same semester. The second best sequence would be to have students take principles of microeconomics prior to principles of macroeconomics, a sequence currently in place in most academic programs. Conclusion Using a sample of 870 students in the College of Business at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, this study has examined the question of whether and to what extent Macro-Micro course sequencing affects student performance in principles of economics. We find that the optimal sequencing involves having students take the two principles of economics classes concurrently. This may be due to synergies, as the terminology and framework of analysis are nearly identical, and to increased focus. The second best sequence would be to have students take principles of microeconomics prior to principles of macroeconomics. In addition, consistent with most prior research, we find that grade point average, major, and to some extent ethnicity and gender are significantly related to performance in one or both of the principles of economics classes. References Anderson, Gordon, Dwayne Benjamin, and Melvyn A. Fuss The Determinants of Success in University Introductory Economics Courses. Journal of Economic Education 25 (Spring): Borg, Mary O. and Stephen L. Shapiro Personality Type and Student Performance in Principles of Economics. Journal of Economic Education 27 (Winter): Brasfield, David W., Dannie E. Harrison, and James P. McCoy The Impact of High School Economics on the College Principles of Economics Course. Journal of Economic Education 24 (Spring): Fizel, John and Johnson, Jerry The Effect of Macro/Micro Course Sequencing on Learning and Attitudes in Principles of Economics. Journal of Economic Education 12 (Spring): Lopus, Jane and Maxwell, Nan Teaching Tools: Should We Teach Microeconomic Principles Before Macroeconomic Principles? Economic Inquiry 33 (April): Robb, Roberta Edgecombe and A. Leslie Robb Gender and the Study of Economics: the Role of Gender of the Instructor. Journal of Economic Education 30 (Winter): Terry, Andy Student Performance in the Introductory Corporate Finance Course. Journal of Financial Education 28 (Fall/Winter): Ziegart, Andrea L The Role of Personality Temperament and Student Learning in Principles of Economics: Further Evidence. Journal of Economic Education 31 (Fall):

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