1998 QUANTRELL AWARD: Allen SandersonSenior Lecturer in Economics
By William Harms
Allen Sanderson teaches economics to College students by showing them how to regard everyday activities and items -- such as cafeteria food and professional dating services -- in a new light.
"I want them to be able to see economics in situations all around them," said Sanderson, Senior Lecturer in Economics. During his classes, he frequently raises questions about seemingly mundane activities to get students thinking more deeply about their connection to economics.
"One of the things we talk about is why students frequently gain weight in college," Sanderson said. "Right away, students say it's because there is so much stress and they don't have time to exercise.
"But I point out that it is probably because of the way food is priced," he continued. "Because there is very little marginal cost in getting more to eat in college -- in the residence halls here, students can help themselves to as much food as they want -- there is little incentive to moderate their intake. As a result, they put on pounds."
Sanderson then takes the example one step further, pointing out that the same principle applies to rising health care costs. When people are not paying directly for their health care, but have insurance or government assistance that covers all or most of the cost, they tend to use the service more than is probably necessary, he said. As a result, health care costs rise.
Such examples are intended to stimulate conversation about economics outside the classroom as well as in it.
"I know from my e-mail that the students are batting these ideas around. They write me messages about what we've been talking about, and it makes me feel good that late in the night in some residence hall the students are still talking about what they learned in class," he said.
Alumni also send him e-mail from time to time to let him know they remembered a lesson at a key time -- during a job interview, for example.
"Most of the students in my classes do not concentrate in economics, but they often need a working knowledge of economics when they're being interviewed for their first job," Sanderson said. "They're happy that if asked, they can make an insightful comment about interest rates or recycling, for instance, rather than staring back at an interviewer like a deer looking into headlights."
Sanderson teaches Economics 198 (Introduction to Microeconomics), which he calls the most important course any student can take as an undergraduate.
"It's hard to survive without a knowledge of economics anymore," he said. "You need it for professional decisions as well as choices about allocating your personal time and thinking about public policy issues. You need to know how markets work, basic things like supply and demand."
The everyday examples Sanderson uses in class are intended to drive home basic principles that will stay with students for a lifetime. "I want them to leave the class with a keen appreciation of incentives and what opportunity costs are, because this knowledge will serve them well in life," he said.
In addition to Economics 198, Sanderson teaches Economics 199 (Introduction to Macroeconomics), Economics 281 (Economics of Sports) and Public Policy 218 (Environmental Studies), which he is teaching this spring.
His research interests revolve around the connection between sports and economics. Sanderson has written numerous professional articles on the topic, as well as several chapters in the book Sports, Jobs and Taxes, now considered a standard reference book on stadium economics. He is currently working on a book on sports economics for popular audiences.
In addition to teaching at the University, Sanderson is Senior Research Scientist at the National Opinion Research Center, where he has overseen a number of surveys and studies dealing with college-level education. He was a co-researcher on a project to improve the methodology used by U.S. News and World Report in its college ratings issues, and he directed a project for ETS on test security and academic integrity. Additionally, he is currently overseeing a project to review the impact of the elimination of affirmative action in the state university system in Texas.
Sanderson also spends time outside the classroom and office with College students. As a faculty fellow for Thompson House in Pierce Hall, he enjoys discussing weighty economic issues over one of those "free" dinners.