Posted by: Louis Lavelle on April 20, 2011
Over the weekend, The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education published a joint project that gave the undergraduate business major a serious thrashing. To hear to the two publications tell it, undergraduate business majors are not the most studious individuals you’re likely to find on a college campus.
Here it is, in a nutshell:
Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: Nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that on a national test of writing and reasoning skills, business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than do students in every other major.
The story says these issues are less of a problem at brand-name schools, “but get much below Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s top 50, and you’ll hear pervasive anxiety about student apathy”—which I guess is what passes for a plug these days. But that seems like cold comfort, particularly given the reasons for the problem cited by the two publications.
One is the very idea of an undergraduate business education, which is viewed by many as a path to a job, not enlightenment. Another is teamwork, which (let’s face it) frequently permits some team members to coast while their teammates do most of the work. Another is “time on task,” or the amount of time devoted to class work. None of these things is limited to programs below the top 50. Heck, the average amount of time spent on class work for top 50 schools is less than 15 hours a week—an eternity compared to one of the schools mentioned in the article (3.64 hours per week) but hardly the kind of workload that would leave a self-respecting humanities major gasping for breath.
There's a vigorous debate going on at the Times web site about the findings. with deans from three business schools writing essays defending their discipline. Dan Smith, of Indiana University's Kelley School of Business (Kelley Undergraduate Business Profile), says business school is frequently a destination for "high-ability and highly motivated" students, adding that it's "hardly a default option." Roger Jenkins, of Miami University's Farmer School of Business (Farmer Undergraduate Business Profile), described in detail all the ways students at his program are put through their paces. And Richard Durand, of American University's Kogod School of Business (Kogod Undergraduate Business Profile), makes a compelling case that business tops many other disciplines in terms of both depth and breadth. "A business education is very demanding," he writes. "Business students could very well be the most broadly educated students at a university."
So I ask you, our devoted readers of the undergraduate business variety, is the portrait presented by the Times and the Chronicle accurate? And if you're too busy studying to respond to this post, we understand entirely.