Business Degrees Devalued

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.

6 thoughts on “Business Degrees Devalued”

  1. I read the entire article and cannot help but agree on most of what is said. I realized in freshman year that writing is a problem in SMG; even some professors have grammatical errors in the textbooks they publish and make us buy. I believe that there should be a business writing requirement for SMG instead of the 3 lessons and 3 small quizzes for business writing in the first semester of freshman year. I believe writing is important anywhere, especially in business; and I am sure SMG does too, but it doesn't show it if the students only learn business writing in 3 short lessons.
    (I know I did not necessarily answer your question; mostly because I do not know how to do so. )

  2. If only "engagement" was simpler in an age of much more distraction. Have you noticed the lack of discipline to use laptops purely for note-taking purposes?

    I've never came across a student who said that they loved the course, but hated the professor. The reverse apparently can still hold true from my limited contacts. I think you hold a fair point, but maybe we're looking at the obvious and too quick to point fingers.

    Here's my working hypothesis: student organizations (a community) are the key to engagement. When you're a part of a community, the learning reciprocates in complex webs. In a classroom setting, it's generally a hub and spokes model. The former is more effective (overall) in engaging students as students do not hold homogenous views of the teacher/course content (no offense professor).

    In concentrations in which the school lacks a strong student-run organization which connects real-world to classroom theory, engagement levels are lower. Conversely, in concentrations where the affiliated student organization has a strong community, students are more engaged because they can more clearly see the value in their education.

    So what should Ken do? I think that if Ken wants to "save" this school, he needs to build a stronger community. So the question is, what kind of community should we build?

    1. "I've never came across a student who said that they loved the course, but hated the professor."

      I disagree with that statement, though I think it's harder to feel that when you're in SMG. The classes are so small that the professors really have to be the teachers. But in CAS, the class sizes are so large that often I don't learn much from the professor… I have to teach myself mostly everything. In Macro and Micro Economics for example, it was impossible to just attend one lecture and understand the material when the class is graded on such a curve. For that reason, I taught myself Macroeconomics and I loved it. I did not hate the professor, but I did not learn as much from the professor as I did myself.

  3. I spent less than 11 hours a week studying for class at SMG.
    I spend more than 11 hours a week studying for law school.

    I think the problem isn't as specific to business degrees as the author suggests. I think these problems exist to a majority of college majors, high school students, and so on. We have an educational system predicated on standardization which has deemphasized creativity and created a generation of students who do not push boundaries and just do enough to get by.

    The day I stopped reading is the day I went to public school. 4th grade.

    1. Eh.. I spend a LOT of time a week studying for my courses and working on them but I find that often my efforts aren't rewarded as I'd like them to be. I think BU has, for the most part, a group of dedicated, intelligent individuals.

  4. I've had this post on my mind over the last few days and after struggling with the idea of business undergraduates being disengaged in their coursework, I agree–at least in part…

    In my experience I've found that business curricula promotes out-of-classroom learning over mastery of in-class theory. Therefore, a business student's relationship with his coursework is continuous. While he may spend a few hours on a case, he is constantly engaged in his studies. On a daily basis, for instance, I find myself analyzing market trends, evaluating commercial effectiveness, or determining a restaurant's profitability. Unlike say an organic chemistry course (of which I have also taken), in-class business theories permeate outside of the classroom in almost every direction.

    In effect, this unremitting engagement with my studies has caused a rift between in-class participation and out-of-class participation with the material. Constant focus is simply impossible and understanding 100% of the material seems less important than how a few key elements can help me later on outside of academia. So while I agree that business students perhaps are less engaged in class, i don't believe that they are more disengaged than other undergraduates.

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