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Published in American Economic Review 93:2 (May 2003), pp. 449-454. Copyright © 2003 American Economic Association. Used by permission.


Graduate students are employed extensively in the teaching of economics at the undergraduate level, but little is known about how they are used for instruction and how they are prepared for their teaching duties. To investigate this topic, we prepared a survey and sent it to the chairs of all 100 Ph.D.-granting economics departments.

The survey was designed to elicit information on (i) the size of Ph.D. economics programs and the uses of graduate students for undergraduate instruction, (ii) the provision of credit and noncredit courses in teaching for economics graduate student instructors, (iii) teaching programs for international graduate students serving as economics instructors, and (iv) the uses of teaching evaluation for graduate-student instructors in economics. Two members of the AEA Committee on Economic Education reviewed initial drafts of the survey. Several economists with extensive experience in survey work and the teaching preparation of economics graduate students also provided constructive criticism. It underwent five revisions before it was sent to department chairs via regular mail in mid-August 2002.

We received 85 of 100 surveys mailed. This high response rate was achieved through two follow-up mailings to non-responding chairs, and by assuring all respondents that only the aggregate findings would be reported. The response rate was also high across departments, regardless of research ranking (see Thursby, 2000). It was 88 percent for the top third of departments, 97 percent for the middle third, and 71 percent for the lowest third. The higher response rate for the middle third is probably because more graduate students teach at these mostly large, public universities. The lower response rate for the bottom-third departments reflects some difficulty in contacting their chairs; but it might also indicate less activity to report.

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