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.