Research News

Vanderbilt’s Graduate Program in Economic Development: Producing movers and shakers for half a century

The program at Vanderbilt University that helped give Muhammad Yunus to the world is a small but mighty wonder. The Graduate Program in Economic Development (GPED) has been producing ambassadors, finance ministers and heads of central banks around the world for 50 years.

Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, returns to Vanderbilt on May 10 to deliver the Senior Day Address and accept Vanderbilt’s Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal and the accompanying $100,000 prize. He entered the GPED for master’s study and continued in the Economics Department at Vanderbilt for the doctorate, which he earned in 1971. Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with his Grameen Bank, which has improved the lives of millions in poverty in his native Bangladesh through small loans – primarily to women – to fund cottage enterprises.

“We were absolutely thrilled when the news of the Peace Prize came out,” said Andrea Maneschi, director of the GPED. “Yunus is certainly the most distinguished alumnus of our program, although we have many other success stories to tell as well.”

The GPED “is the oldest program in the United States that awards the master’s in economics to students primarily from developing countries,” Maneschi said. “Over the past half century, more than 1,300 students from 120 countries have become part of our worldwide family.”

The program has produced two country vice presidents; 10 governors of central banks; six ambassadors; numerous ministers and vice ministers of finance, industry and development; as well as scores of alumni in international organizations such as the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. The GPED has trained university professors from 52 countries. Other alumni are active in non-government organizations. One recent graduate, Darius Coulibaly of Cote D’Ivoire, has founded a non-profit organization, Empowering the Poor, Inc., focused on the eradication of malaria.

The GPED Program was founded in 1956 with a grant from the Foreign Operations Administration, predecessor of the United States Agency for International Development.

“It was placed here because of the strong reputation of Vanderbilt and its location in the South – the ‘developing’ region of the United States – in order to train educators and officials placed in charge of setting development policy for the less developed nations of the world,” Maneschi said. “The idea was to show that the South of the United States presented problems of economic development that were similar to those found in other countries around the globe.”

Human capital is a key ingredient in economic development. Without it, other forms of investment are often ineffective. The Graduate Program in Economic Development contributes significantly to human development in the developing countries of the world. Most students are funded by their home governments. Upon completion of their studies, they return home to apply what they’ve learned to the benefit of their home countries.

The composition of the student body has shifted over the years depending on which nations were able to finance outstanding young scholars for graduate study at Vanderbilt. There have been times where students from Brazil and Korea dominated. At present, there’s a surge of students from Kazakhstan. Vanderbilt currently provides two tuition scholarships for students from Africa and one tuition scholarship for a Latin American student. In addition to international students, the GPED began admitting students from the United States in 2000.

“The GPED Program is flexible enough that the curriculum can be tailored to the issues of a student’s home country, including the United States,” Maneschi said. The unique nature of the program leads to a more diverse age group, often attracting older, more experienced students. “Students sometimes have more experience in some areas than their teachers,” Maneschi said. “We embrace that, and our instructors have learned to make use of this grant range of experience in the classroom.”

Media Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS