Saturday, 30 April 2011

Business schools

Economics departments usually sit uneasily in business schools. Here's one reason why:
Paul M. Mason does not give his business students the same exams he gave 10 or 15 years ago. "Not many of them would pass," he says.

Mr. Mason, who teaches economics at the University of North Florida, believes his students are just as intelligent as they've always been. But many of them don't read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying. "We used to complain that K-12 schools didn't hold students to high standards," he says with a sigh. "And here we are doing the same thing ourselves."


Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: Nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that on a national test of writing and reasoning skills, business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than do students in every other major.
While Canterbury's economics department is in the College of Business and Economics, we award degrees in each of Arts, Sciences and Commerce; we sit in all three Faculties. Most of our majoring students complete the Bachelor of Commerce. I tend to pitch my courses towards those students coming in via the Arts pathway, partially because most of my colleagues don't and partially because it suits me.

As we move down the path towards AACSB membership, I wonder how many of our Econ students will flip from Commerce to Arts, substituting mandatory courses in management and information systems for electives across political sciences, history, philosophy and psychology.
A forthcoming report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching praises 10 American colleges of business as models for integrating the liberal arts and practical training.

One of the objects of praise is business-oriented Babson College. Its president, Leonard A. Schlesinger, says that concrete business skills tend to expire in five years or so, as technology and organizations change. History and philosophy, on the other hand, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable for business students.

"If we didn't provide that kind of timeless knowledge to our students, we would be providing a seriously inadequate education," Mr. Schlesinger says. At the same time, Babson requires an ambitious practicum experience. In groups of 30, first-year students plan and create small businesses, with real money at stake. Last spring's businesses sold flip-flops, speakers, and chocolates. Any profits at the end of the year are donated to charity.
The biggest obstacles are student fears that employers put less value on an Arts degree than a Commerce degree, and that the degree now effectively has to be chosen before the student sets foot on campus; the mandatory courses for Commerce students are mostly completed in first year, after which the marginal costs of switching to an Arts or Science degree are high. But as for employers:
According to national [Note: US. Your mileage may vary for NZ] surveys, they want to hire 22-year-olds who can write coherently, think creatively, and analyze quantitative data. They're perfectly happy to hire English or biology majors. Most Ivy League universities and elite liberal-arts colleges, in fact, don't even offer undergraduate business majors.

Back in 1980, J. David Hunger, the St. Benedict/Saint John's fellow, wrote a monograph about the travails of undergraduate business education. He has never quite resolved his ambivalent feelings about the field. "At some times in my life," he says, "I've argued that we don't really need a business major."
There could be a nice market niche for an Australasian business school that followed the less travelled path.

1 comment:

  1. "will flip from Commerce to Arts"

    We can only hope.

    "The biggest obstacles are student fears that employers put less value on an Arts degree than a Commerce degree"

    I don't know. Most student realise that employers select by major not degree.