Unique Doctor of Economic Development program at NMSU looks to expand its reach
Las Cruces, NM — A doctoral program at New Mexico State University that is unique in the nation is looking to increase its visibility and expand its pool of qualified applicants.
The Doctor of Economic Development program was launched in 2008 and is offered jointly by the Department of Economics, Applied Statistics and International Business in the College of Business and the Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business Department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
The degree is the only professional doctorate in economic development offered in the U.S. It is differentiated by its applied approach, which focuses on training professionals who can have a direct impact on their communities, rather than on producing strictly academic research.
To date, the program has awarded 15 doctoral degrees to students from the U.S., Mexico, Jordan, Cameroon, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Though it’s a relatively young program, it has already established a strong international reputation.
Graduate Ndem Tazoh Tazifor grew up in Cameroon, where he saw firsthand how a society is affected by poverty and hunger. This sparked an interest in economic development, and Tazifor knew he wanted to find a program with a practical approach to these issues. That led him to NMSU.
“This program bridges the gap that exists between research and real-world problems in economic development,” Tazifor said. “The program thus prepares individuals with a broader, better and comprehensive approach to economic development-related issues.”
Tazifor now works as an economist for the state of New Mexico’s Economic Development Department, where he applies the analytical skills he learned in the program.
“One of my primary roles at my job requires extensive knowledge of demographic, social and economic data, their availability, and sources where you can find such data,” Tazifor said. “Some other duties include conducting economic impact studies and working with cities to create economic development plans.
“These and other job requirements are directly aligned with NMSU’s DED program of study,” he said.
Now that the program’s reputation is growing, the goal is to get its message in front of a diverse population of professionals who can become catalysts for economic growth in their own communities. An award of $35,000 from the NMSU President’s Performance Fund is being used to develop and distribute print and online marketing materials and place advertisements in national and international trade journals.
A report released July 3 by the U.S. Labor Department indicates that the national unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in June – the lowest level since September of 2008 – but New Mexico was the only state besides New Jersey that actually saw a slight decrease in employment from May 2013 to May 2014. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report for the period from January 2011 to November 2013 placed New Mexico dead last among states in job growth at less than 1 percent.
Chris Erickson, a business professor who teaches in the program, said economic development success is not measured by these short-term comparisons of job growth, but he said the need for professionals to work in development is obvious. He said graduates of the DED program would be well-equipped to lead or develop programs in fields such as workforce development, infrastructure and business finance, business attraction and retention, community development, industrial rehabilitation, international trade and tourism development.
Faculty member Steven Archambault, an assistant professor in Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, said the doctoral students get the opportunity to work on a variety of real projects. In one such project, students served in a consulting role with the downtown economic development organization in Las Cruces.
“They were looking for guidance on how to hand out small loans to businesses in the area, and we were able to help them figure out what to do with a revolving loan fund to make that more successful,” Archambault said.
Another graduate of the program, Rodolfo Acosta-Perez is director of family empowerment at the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico in Las Cruces, where he helps families become more self-sufficient and engaged in their communities. An industrial engineer, Acosta-Perez was interested in a better understanding of the business world when he sought his master’s of business administration at NMSU. He went on to join the DED program because he was looking for a practitioner’s degree that would open career doors in the private and public sectors.
“The program also helped me build upon my research skills, which are extremely necessary in my line of work,” Acosta-Perez said. “I feel better-suited for quantifying the social and economic impact of our programs at a micro and macro level.”
In June, Acosta-Perez presented his doctoral thesis, “Conspicuous Consumption and Drug-Trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” at the first World Conference of the Association for Borderlands Studies in Joensuu, Finland, and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Benjamin Widner, an associate professor in the Department of Economics, Applied Statistics and International Business, said the program allows for both faculty and students to examine economic development on a global scale.
“Because of the diversity of the students, we have discussions that move beyond the North American-centric examples and we get to see how things happen from an international perspective,” he said.
For more information on the Doctor of Economic Development program, visit http://econdev.nmsu.edu.