Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Politics
  3. Policy & Issues

Top 5 university economics departments

See also

If you are looking for a graduate degree in economics and want to aim for the best, you may be wondering, "If I could write my own ticket, where would I go?" Or you may be wondering if the latest economic pundit you have been reading got his degree at a top notch school. Of course it is not an easy thing to rank academic programs. There will always be some subjectivity involved. But here are three lists of the top five academic economics departments.

We also follow with a list of some programs that didn't make it on to any of the three lists, but nonetheless are top quality.

The U.S. News and World Report top 5 economics departments:

1. Harvard University

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3. Princeton University

4. University of Chicago

5. Stanford University

Note that the top four departments in this list are in a virtual tie, with all four listed at #1 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The IDEAS top 5 economics departments:

1. Harvard University

2. Princeton University

3. University of Chicago

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

5. University of California, Berkeley

Gregory Mankiw's top five economics departments:

1. Harvard University

2. Princeton University

3. University of Chicago

4. New York University

5. University of California Berkeley

So there you have it. Not total agreement on the top five, but close. Harvard makes #1 on all three lists. Princeton and the University of Chicago make it onto all three lists. MIT and Berkeley onto two. Stanford and NYU each make it onto one of the lists.

No matter, these are all top flight centers of economic study and research. Here we are stopping at the 'top five,' but there are many other quality programs out there. Here's a list of 10 more top flight programs in random order:

Columbia University

Yale University

University of Pennsylvania

Boston University

Brown University

University of Michigan

Northwestern University

University of Minnesota

University of Wisconsin

Cornell University

If you are embarking on a graduate degree in economics, or even just starting at the undergraduate level, I congratulate you. You are about to embark on a stimulating intellectual journey.

Littauer Center of Public Adminstration, Harvard University
Littauer Center of Public Adminstration, Harvard University Wikipedia.org, public domain

Littauer Center of Public Adminstration, Harvard University

The University of Harvard economics department is noted as top notch world wide. Famous economists who have graduated from Harvard, or who have taught at Harvard include some of the great economists of all times.

Paul Samuelson, The late, great economist and author of a best selling economics text for undergraduates, first published in 1948, that went though a multitude of editions, got his PhD from Harvard and then spent a career teaching at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. John Kenneth Galbraith, a great liberal, and constant critic of the University of Chicago free market approach to economics, spent a career teaching at Harvard.

Larry Summers was on the faculty of the Harvard Economics Department and served a stint as President of Harvard. He is now emeritus in both those positions and currently on the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Current notable faculty at Harvard include Greg Mankiw and Robert Barro. Barro is a leading critic of Keynesian economics. He has published extensive research studies on economic growth, economic effects of public debt and budget deficits, and monetary policy. Mankiw is chairman of the economics department at Harvard. From 2003 to 2005, Mankiw was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. In 2006, he became an economic adviser to Mitt Romney and continued during Romney's 2012 presidential bid.

MIT Building 10 and the Great Dome, Cambridge Massachusetts, June 18, 2011.
MIT Building 10 and the Great Dome, Cambridge Massachusetts, June 18, 2011. John Phelan, photo taken 18 June 2011, wikipedia.org

MIT Building 10 and the Great Dome, Cambridge Massachusetts, June 18, 2011.

The economics department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has to rank at or near the top. For many years, experts would say it was a toss up as to which one of the two, MIT or Harvard, was number one, and which number two. The late, great Paul Samuelson, after getting his PhD at Harvard, spent his career teaching at MIT, helping it become a premier Economics Department and a challenge to Harvard's for #1.

Other great economists that have taught at MIT include Franco Modigliani and Robert Solo. Paul Krugman, and Greg Mankiw and Larry Summers got their PhD's at MIT.

Current prominent faculty include James Poterba, President of the National Bureau of Economic Research and President of the Eastern Economic Association; Peter Diamond, Oliver Blanchard, Jonathan Gruber and Jerry Hausman.

Princeton University, Rear view of Little Hall Tower, 2006.
Princeton University, Rear view of Little Hall Tower, 2006. Alfred Hutter, public domain, Wikipedia.org

Princeton University, Rear view of Little Hall Tower, 2006.

Princeton University's economics department has to be up there on everyone's list of top programs. The iconic Nobel Prize winning economist and hard to ignore New York Times columnist Paul Krugman teaches at Princeton. And the Princeton economics department has some of the top economists that produce some of the best research on the workings of labor markets, including Orley Ashenfelter, Alan Krueger and Henry Farber. Krueger is a leading expert on the effects of minimum wage law, among many other labor market issues. Alan Blinder, Macro economist and author of the book on the 2007-2008 financial crisis, "When the Music Stopped," also teaches at Princeton. Before he became chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke taught at Princeton. Bernanke has since taken a position at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

 

Panorama of stately buildings at the University of Chicago
Panorama of stately buildings at the University of Chicago University of Chicago public domain photo

Panorama of stately buildings at the University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is considered the bulwark of conservative, market oriented economists. Many great economists who emphasized the wonder of the workings of free markets and the positive growth effects of minimal government intrusion into the economy have taught here, including the late, great Milton Friedman. Friedrich August von Hayek, of "Road to Serfdom" fame taught here. Currently Gary Becker, James Heckman and Robert Lucas, all Nobel Prize winners in economics, are on the faculty.  Sometimes, the Chicago school and its largely conservative tilt, is contrasted to a more liberal slant existing at Harvard and to some extent, at MIT and Yale.

Since Chicago is on a fresh water lake, Lake Michigan, and Harvard, MIT and Yale are nearer the Atlantic Ocean, sometimes Chicago economists have been dubbed 'fresh water economists, and those schools nearer the Atlantic Ocean as 'salt water economists.'

But these days, Harvard, with faculty members like Robert Barro and Greg Mankiw, may be less conclusively liberal than it was in the past.

Stanford University Hoover Tower, March 2005.
Stanford University Hoover Tower, March 2005. Stamford Stanford University Hoover Tower. Taken on 3/31/2005 by Jawed Karim on wikipedia.com

Stanford University Hoover Tower, March 2005.

Prominent faculty at Stanford University include Michael Boskin, Robert Hall, John Pencavel, John Taylor, Kenneth Arrow, and Thomas Sargent. Most of these take a conservative bent to economics. John Taylor is a prolific critic of Keynesian economics and the developer of the Taylor rule by which some economists believe the Federal Reserve should set monetary policy.  Some economist consider Stanford to be the Chicago of the West. Milton Friedman ended his last years here at Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank that is associated with the University. Herbert Hoover is a famous alumni of the university.

Advertisement