Provide relevant course content.

Students have different identities, life experiences, interests, and goals. Each student needs to perceive course content to be relevant or useful to their own life—their academic persistence and success depend on it (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017; Bayer, Bhanot, Bronchetti, and O’Connell 2020).

  • Provide students with opportunities to connect course material to the knowledge, experience, and questions they bring with them to the classroom.
  • Make space for diverse interests by asking students to connect a new concept, such as opportunity cost or marginal benefit, to a setting meaningful to them.
  • Rethink the applications offered in standard economics curricula and textbooks, which are often trivial or targeted to particular socioeconomic classes, races, genders, or nationalities. Acknowledge the biases in our textbooks.
  • Replace trivial or sexist examples (e.g., beer, golf, and sports cars) with consequential and broadly experienced applications (e.g., inequality and climate change). Don’t assume certain topics are women’s or minority issues.
  • Allow students to choose the focus of their term papers.
  • Provide students opportunities for values affirmation.

Relative to men from overrepresented groups, “women and URM students [in introductory economics courses] were less likely to report that their professors used examples that were relatable to their lives and more likely to feel the course overlooked important aspects of the issues it covered,” as revealed in survey data collected by Bayer, Bhanot, Bronchetti, and O’Connell (2020). This study also uses administrative data to provide suggestive evidence that higher levels of relevance, along with belonging and growth mindsets, are associated with better performance in introductory economics and greater persistence in the discipline.

A careful review of the literature provides evidence that relevance, belonging, and growth mindsets are related to college success and are impacted by practices of faculty and departments (e.g., National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine 2017).

Cited works

Bayer, Amanda, Syon P. Bhanot, Erin T. Bronchetti, and Stephen A. O’Connell. 2020. “Diagnosing the Learning Environment for Diverse Students in Introductory Economics: An Analysis of Relevance, Belonging, and Growth Mindsets.” AEA Papers and Proceedings, 110: 294-98.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.