How do Economics Students Advance the Common Good?

The Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP) develops partnerships with cities and government entities to integrate a set of city-identified sustainability projects into existing St. Thomas courses across disciplines. The Economics Department has been involved in two projects. They are: 

In the Spring of 2016, two Economics faculty integrated city-identified sustainability projects into their existing courses through the Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP).  SCP is a pilot initiative in the Center for Global and Local Engagement’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives that partners with cities to link St. Thomas courses with projects that engage students in real-world application of course material and advance cities’ sustainability goals. 

Students in two economics courses—Managerial Decision Making and Economics of the Public Sector, taught by Monica Hartmann and Matthew Kim, respectively—collaborated to conduct analyses of potential energy efficiency upgrades to public buildings and street lighting for the City of Delano.  In particular, students benchmarked energy usage, evaluated the technical and political feasibility of potential upgrades, and prepared policy recommendations for Delano’s City Council.  Students also developed dynamic analytical tools that will enable city staff to conduct future analyses as scenarios change or new data become available. 

The SCP provided students clear and tangible connections between academic coursework and real-world issues.  Economics student Anna Kate Nolan explains: “SCP has been essential in showing how our education ties in with the UST mission. This project has allowed us to analyze real-world data, collaborate with classmates, and present solutions to problems that affect real communities. We are applying skills we have cultivated in the classroom to projects that advance the common good.”  

Profs. Hartmann and Kim won the 2017 OSI Curricular Innovation in Sustainability Award for their work on this project. Check out this video describing the project!

The City of Elk River has organized solid waste collection for its residents through two haulers (Randy’s Environmental Services and Republic Services). The haulers are under contract with the City of Elk River until 2022. Residential accounts are set up and billed through Elk River Municipal Utilities. Customers pay a monthly fee on their utility bill for their collection services based on the size of the garbage cart, the rate of pick up, and whether or not they participate in organics waste collection. The haulers take the garbage to Great River Energy, which also charges the city for disposal and separation of compostable bags. 

The city’s contract fee to the haulers is set until 2022, but the residential customer rates have not been adjusted since 2013.  Dr. Michael Walrath’s Industrial Organization (ECON 332) students examined whether current customer rates offset the current costs to the city or whether the city is subsidizing collection.  Also, students explored options for billing the “free” recycling (fee currently included with garbage charge) separately from garbage to prevent recycling charges from being taxed.  Finally, students examined the possibility of eliminating the separate charge of organics collection (possibly by incorporating the residential fee for organics collection into garbage collection fees).