Policy

The Case for Teaching Entrepreneurship in High School


There’s no question that entrepreneurship education is hot. There were 20 times as many college courses on entrepreneurship in 2008 as there were in 1985, according to the Kauffman Foundation, and nearly 400,000 college students (pdf) take classes on the subject each year.

Whether entrepreneurship is something that should be taught in college, and whether the training is effective, are two questions that remain up for debate. Here are two more: Should high schools teach entrepreneurship? To what end?

New research from the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) argues that the benefits of teaching young people how to launch and run a business extend beyond developing the next generation of world-changing entrepreneurs.

NFTE has provided courses in entrepreneurship to more than 500,000 students, mostly from low-income middle schools and high schools, since the organization was founded in 1987. Recently, the nonprofit surveyed about 1,300 alumni of its entrepreneurship programs—which include courses taught throughout the school year as well as summer camps and often culminate in business plan competitions.

The findings: Students who completed a NFTE program were doing better at educational achievement than the population at large:

• 99 percent of alumni over the age of 25 have a high school diploma, compared with 85 percent of the larger population.

• The high school dropout rate for NFTE alumni between the ages of 16 and 19 was 1 percent, compared with a national average of 3.4 percent.

• Half of NFTE alumni who graduated from college earned degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math. Forty-seven percent of NFTE grads with STEM degrees were African American, more than six times the national rate. Fifty-one percent of NFTE alumni in the survey were African American.

“Kids are making decisions when they’re 12 or 13 that will destine them to poverty,” says NFTE’s chief executive, Amy Rosen. “The question is: Can you change the trajectory of a kid’s life in one year-long course by getting them involved in their work? I’ve seen over and over again that you can.”

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering small business and entrepreneurship.

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