The Problem of Business Education

Studies show that undergraduate business students are less engaged than their fellow students, the Chronicle of Higher Education, collaborating with The New York Times, reports. Citing a book by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, the Chronicle explains that business students have the lower gains in writing and reasoning skills than other majors, and score lower than other students on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

With business majors accounting for over 20% of bachelor’s degrees awarded each year in the United States, this is a problem that educators and researchers are trying to address. In particular, "soft" business fields like management and marketing are being scrutinized because they encompass the majority of business majors and yet are not subject to a consensus on the methods through which students should be learning — or even what topics lessons should address.

Another problem is the strong reliance on group work often seen within undergraduate business majors. Many professors want to teach students that when they graduate and enter the working world, they will need to be active members of a team, prepared to work and communicate well with others. However, excessive group projects often afford students with the opportunity to stay within their comfort zones — working on aspects of the project that use the skills they already have — rather than accepting challenges. There are also those students that feel as though they can get away with doing very little work during group projects, leaving others to shoulder the burden.

But some educators argue that while classes may be easy and heavily based on group work, many students are able to get practical experience in developing skills through outside clubs and internships. Then again, some students do not participate in these outside ventures, and the true value of such experiences will vary depending on the programs.

Others blame the students for blowing off work or drinking too heavily far too often. The Chronicle interviews a student who admits to only attending class to take exams or turn in work and only bothering to read the textbook before exams. Despite his habits, this method seems to be working for him — he has a 3.3 GPA.

In an attempt to address these issues, some schools have tried an interdisciplinary approach to business education. For instance, the University of Virginia’s business school utilizes team teaching, with instructors pooling together their strengths to address business from multiple sides — focusing on the content as well as writing, communications, and other relevant subject areas. Others encourage "soft" business majors to double-major in a more in-demand and challenging field, like finance.

Figuring out which method will best solve the problem of business education is a learning process, for educators as well as students. At the end of the Chronicle article, J. David Hunger, a management scholar at the College of St. Benedict and Saint John’s University, is quoted as saying, "Students are demanding these [business] majors, and we have to learn how to do them right." And that’s what educators are being urged to do — to reassess their programs to see how they can be tweaked to better educate a student body that, as it stands right now, is under-engaged.

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