For years, policymakers in developing countries have grappled with the problem of human capital complementarities, defined as the tendency for richer countries to attract workers from developing countries with advanced education, leaving these countries with little access to an educated workforce. This phenomenon creates a vicious cycle of emigrating education that makes economic development is nearly impossible. But the Center for Development Economics (CDE) is trying to change that.
The CDE is one of two graduate programs at the College. The program aims to fight against limited access to education in economic policymaking in developing nations. This yearlong Master’s degree program provides students with a thorough understanding of the development process, emphasizing analytical techniques helpful to policymakers. With this policymaking expertise under their belts, graduates of the CDE have gone on to become successful economists and policy advisors.
Over the years, the CDE has trained more than 1000 students from 100 nations around the world, impacting the economies of many developing nations. The CDE has also had an enormous impact on the quality of the undergraduate economics program at the College. Students, particularly economics majors, are eligible to take courses at the CDE on topics ranging from international trade and development to the economics of climate change. Moreover, the larger departmental focus on research in economic development has helped attract many economics professors, adding to the quality of an already prominent department.
Just like the College, the CDE is a very close community. Every year, about twenty-five students make the trek to Williamstown from across the world. Such a small program makes the admis-sions process particularly rigorous. As the Center reports, “The CDE admissions process is highly selective. Candidates for the CDE program include those with superior first degrees, often in economics, and who have demonstrated responsibility early in their careers in public sector institutions or in non-governmental organizations.”
For students, making it to the CDE is an accomplishment. This pertains not only to the challenge of getting admitted, but also to the financial difficulties the journey to the College poses. The CDE combats this challenge by working “closely with foreign governments, with international agencies, and with admitted candidates to arrange funding for incoming students, who come to the CDE from across the globe,” they said.
It is this commitment to international development that allows the CDE to have such a broad impact. “While individual graduates have risen to the highest levels of service in their governments, the CDE is proudest of the commitment to development demonstrated by more than 90 percent of alumni who still live and work in their home countries,” the Center said.
In speaking with a few current students at the CDE, it is easy to see why the program’s experience is so valuable. Mir Ahmad Shekib CDE ’16, a fellow from Afghanistan, believes that the CDE is designed for people who have some professional experience in economics and need specific skills in policy making. “The courses are all designed in a way that helps you to become more skilled in policy issues. I take courses on time series, which is wonderful and very important for policy making, as well as courses on financial sector development and fiscal challenges in the long run. They are definitely resources that I could never have access to back home,” Shekib said.
For Iris Jirón Montenegro CDE ’16, a fellow from Nicaragua, being a graduate student at the College is particularly rewarding. “A university is just different in terms of structure, number of students and resources. My aim is to see where I can find the opportunities to learn better and acquire more knowledge, so it doesn’t matter that how big or reputable the school is but [rather what] quality [of] education it offers,” Montenegro said.
The impact of the CDE is obvious for everyone involved. The intersection of so many diverse experiences in policymaking and education has allowed the CDE program to gain national notoriety. Beyond that, the CDE has given the economics department a key to unlocking development worldwide and helping to advance access to higher education for countries that need it most.