Concentrators in the operations research and financial engineering department jumped by more than a third with this year’s sophomore class, according to the University directory. ORFE concentrators make up more than a quarter of the engineers in the class of 2016, a statistic that some department administrators say may be due to growing interest in finance and a recovering economy.
As of last Friday, 88 out of the 333 sophomores currently enrolled in the BSE program are in the ORFE department, the most popular engineering concentration in that class, followed by computer science and chemical and biological engineering, each with 73 and 54 enrolled sophomores, respectively.
Currently, the sophomore ORFE students make up more than 40 percent of the undergraduates in the department. 51 ORFE concentrators are seniors while 65 ORFE majors are juniors.
However, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Peter Bogucki noted that these statistics are “dynamic numbers.”
“These enrollments are often variable from one year to the next,” he explained. “You can’t really find controlling factors.”
Such spikes have occurred in the past, Bogucki added. For instance, the Class of 2011, the largest ORFE graduating class to date with 66 concentrators, originally consisted of 87 rising sophomores.
At the same time, administrators in the ORFE department attribute the dramatic increase in ORFE concentrators to a greater interest in financial work among students.
“[The increase] is not surprising because ORFE has always been popular,” Department Chair Jianqing Fan explained, adding, “The financial market has increased. They need more quantitative people to work in that area.”
While he noted that it is often difficult to predict trends in the department, Fan stated that, based on historical data and the increases in the size of the engineering school as a whole, he expects that the department will be able to retain approximately 80 of the new concentrators in the class of 2016.
ORFE Departmental Representative Alain Kornhauser noted that while the increase in concentrators “is substantially larger than spikes we’ve had before,” the department has not introduced any changes that would explain this increase.
“It’s not that we had a different promotional process with respect to this class,” he explained. “We think that the department is an improving department, but we haven’t made any drastic changes that would correlate with this.”
Kornhauser added that the state of the American economy might have also impacted the appeal of the department.
“Financial engineering wasn’t responsible for the financial crisis of 2008, but its name was possibly tarnished a little bit,” he said. “But now it’s no longer 2008. Some of the memories of that are somewhat gone. We’re back to normal.”
But Kornhauser noted that no one can definitively determine whether such a causal relationship exists. He explained that it is more likely that the ORFE department has become a more attractive major for students pursuing the applied math certificate, or for students generally interested in analytical and leadership skills.
Charlie Wu ’16 explained that he chose ORFE as a concentration because it allows for greater flexibility in his schedule than other majors. However, at the same time he said he is considering switching his concentration to computer science, which he explained has similar academic requirements.
Wu added that he believes in other cases, some students might have financial motivations for pursuing an ORFE degree.
“People sort of think that ORFE majors make a lot of money,” he said. “I don’t really know, though, because that’s not a factor for me.”