Last Thursday the NY Times published an article titled The Default Major: Skating Through B-School. It’s premise: “all evidence suggests that student disengagement is at its worst in . . . undergraduate business education.” The Times reports the findings of the National Survey of Student Engagement: “[b]usiness majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field . . . nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class.” Another finding from the sociologist authors of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” is that “business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT . . . they score lower than students in every other major.” The article distinguishes between the most competitive undergraduate business programs and those “much below Business Week’s top 50.” It cites three sources for the problem: undergraduate business programs have a disproportionate number of students not motivated by intellectual curiosity “who approach college in purely instrumental terms, as a plausible path to a job;” there is no consensus among business programs “about what students ought to learn or how they ought to learn it;” and “with large student-faculty ratios and no lab equipment, business has historically been cheaper to operate than most departments.” The Times followed up yesterday with comments from various deans, academics, and others familiar with undergraduate business education.
Where does the School of Management fall? “Engagement” is one of my most important grading criteria. Some of our students are disengaged, distinguished by their academic apathy. Some are as fully engaged as a teacher could hope. Some become engaged on our watch. (Teachers live for that.) Some cannot fathom why they must take any course unrelated to what they think they need to know to make money. Some view their education as a simple business transaction: I pay tuition, after four years you deliver a high-paying job. Some understand their education is a process that began years before they started college and will continue for the rest of their lives.
How does a business school ensure that its degree is not devalued by under-engaged students? Find, foster, and perpetuate engagement with great students, great faculty, and great courses. How? If it were as easy as developing slogans the problem wouldn’t exist. Increasing the value of our degree is our new dean’s focus–I figure Ken will be “new dean” until his first anniversary.