Business Education = Trade School?

Undergraduate business majors are a dime a dozen on many college campuses. But according to some, they may be worth even less . . . The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts coursesMelissa Korn, “Wealth or Waste? Rethinking the Value of a Business Major,” The Wall Street Journal, 5-April 12 (Emphasis mine)

This theme resonates powerfully in my attitudes about teaching. My business-school courses involve extensive discussions, critical research and analysis, and clear, concise writing. Perhaps 20% of my students engage with our course material across this spectrum of activities. Others do what’s necessary to get by. They finished in the upper quintile or higher of their high school classes, have respectable (or better) standardized test scores, and balk at the intellectual spade work necessary to comprehend a more-difficult-than-ordinary legal opinion. Not all, of course. Our best students would do well anywhere, and  no part of teaching is more enjoyable than helping a struggling student shift their academic performance to a higher gear. They light up, learn to trust their abilities, and revel in the excitement of learning.  But enough view their business education as a transaction with measurable deliverables–how will learning this material translate into income?–to affect the intellectual climate of the classroom. I push some, pull others, and try to generate enough momentum with the rest for inertia to keep it all moving. Melissa Korn’s WSJ piece discusses changes afoot in other schools to integrate liberal arts lessons and intellectual values into the business school curriculum. Revisions to our curriculum will increase its focus on broader topics. I’m curious how students will respond.

4 Replies to “Business Education = Trade School?”

  1. Raymond Lin

    I agree with Allysa’s point that “almost every school … offer a business program that may or may not be as exploratory as SMG.” Every business school chooses to advertise themselves differently to pull in more students and I guess what pulled me into SMG was when my tour guide spoke of CORE. I thought it would give me an edge as I was going to prepare myself for the real world. However, as I bragged about this to my friends back at home after coming here, I learned that their schools had their own little features that may give them a more competitive edge in the future. Some schools have their version of SMG’s CORE during freshman year which is great, but I guess we need to consider everything about a school. I would agree that business school is like a trade school, the difference from school to school is how we are prepped and what resources we are given to use. Even though other students may have great experiences in the classroom, they may not have classes such as SM411 to help prepare them for future internship opportunities. Also, I feel that because SMG requires certain electives and courses prior to the concentration, we do get a good grasp on all areas and therefore are well-rounded students.

  2. Allysa Zemke

    I both agree with Korn’s Point about the dime a dozen and with Alex’s point below. I agree that SMG does a great job of giving both ends of the spectrum. CORE is and has long been a very special system to teach 4 functional elements of the business world. However, the Atlantic also said “Over the past three decades, the percentage of Americans holding a college degree has more than doubled, reaching 27 percent by 2004,” maybe making business students a dime a dozen. Even through SMG is giving a diverse education in may facets of business – the truth is almost every school (including the unheard of ones deep in the heart of minnesota -where I am from) offer a business program that may or may not be as exploratory as SMG. I feel like with the increasing trend to globalize and have global commerce, with the increasing amount of people holding degrees …well maybe business students are a dime a dozen…?

  3. Alex Greer

    I would have to disagree. I believe that Boston University’s School of Management does an excellent job of giving us both sides of the spectrum. We learn all of the hard skills of the business work in our  major’s course. And what I think makes SMG stand out from other schools is the CORE academic project, which gives us unmatched education in business decision making with
    the aim of  CORE being to develop a successful business plan. Something I would
    not have experienced at another institution.

  4. James Sappenfield

    Interestingly enough, one of my largest complaints regarding my business education was the lack of ‘hard’ skills attached to it….. I felt I did not receive enough requisite statistics and math analytic decision work in the course of obtaining a BSBA. My argument consistently is that the two go hand-in-hand…. Isn’t it a requirement to make good business decisions that one be both able to reason and communicate as well as provide analysis of hard data? Aside from accounting and other ‘hard’ business focuses, I feel often many students are left on the other side of the spectrum, having graduated with a focus in, say, organizational behavior, but without the knowledge of ‘hard’ skills or tools to contribute concretely and knowingly in a workplace. Often, I’d even argue many end up without either the ability to reason, nor the tools to do so in an informed manner.

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