“Students are demanding these [business] majors, and we have to learn how to do them right.” – J. David Hunger, scholar-in-residence (1978)

Wow, this blog has been quite narcissistic these past few weeks!  I’m definitely happy that I could document the exciting changes in my life, but it’s time to return to my self-appointed title of the unasked-but-eager-nevertheless critic of our current education system.

Late last week, the NY Times article “The Default Major: Skating Through B-School” caught my eye.  David Glenn of the The Chronicle of Higher Education did an apt and thorough job of exploring the student disengagement and lax teaching expectations and methods in the “softer” fields of undergraduate study: management, marketing, economics, and business.

The article opens with University of North Florida’s Dr. Paul M. Mason explaining why he does not give his business students the same exams he used to give 10-15 years ago; “Not many of them would pass.”  Although the article proceeds to say that Dr. Mason “believes his students are just as intelligent as they’ve always been” it asserts that “many of them don’t read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying.”   Dr. Mason concludes with a sigh,

“We used to complain that K-12 schools didn’t hold students to high standards…And here we are doing the same thing ourselves.”

This depressing conversation hooked me into reading the rest of the article, and although  I tried to summarize the article, I realized it might be best to just let the quotes, stats, and anecdotes speak for themselves!  You can always read the article yourself too.

  •  “…nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class.”
  • “…business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills.”
  • “[business students] score lower than students in every other major [on the GMAT].”
  • “…finance, accounting, marketing, management and “general business”…accounts for just over 20 percent, or more than 325,000, of all bachelor’s degrees awarded annually in the United States, making it the most popular field of study.”
  • “Brand-name programs … are full of students pulling 70-hour weeks, if only to impress the elite finance and consulting firms they aspire to join. But get much below BusinessWeek’s top 50, and you’ll hear pervasive anxiety about student apathy”
  • 1st source of trouble: students major in business by default or for the purpose for job security and networking and “not out of curiosity about, say, Ronald Coase’s theory of the firm.”
  • 2nd source: “in management and marketing, no strong consensus has emerged about what students ought to learn or how they ought to learn it.”
  • 3rdly: “with large student-faculty ratios and no lab equipment, business has historically been cheaper to operate than most departments. Cynics say many colleges are content.
  • “They need us to be cash cows.”
  • After the aforementioned national writing assessment test, “Communication, education and social-work majors had slightly better gains; humanities, social science, and science and engineering students saw much stronger improvement.”  Sociologists believe the gaps between business students and other students correlated with the smaller homework load and prevalence of group work.
  • “Donald R. Bacon, a business professor at the University of Denver, studied group projects at his institution and found a perverse dynamic: the groups that functioned most smoothly were often the ones where the least learning occurred. That’s because students divided up the tasks in ways they felt comfortable with. The math whiz would do the statistical work, the English minor drafted the analysis. And then there’s the most common complaint about groups: some shoulder all the work, the rest do nothing.”
  •  Leonard A. Schlesinger (president of Babson College), says that concrete business skills tend to expire in five years or so as technology and organizations change. History and philosophy, on the other hand, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable for business students. *
  • According to national surveys, [employers] want to hire 22-year-olds who can write coherently, think creatively and analyze quantitative data, and they’re perfectly happy to hire English or biology majors.
The studies into various university programs in the article is also quite an interesting read.
Ultimately, the shock probably comes from the fact that discoveries of practically school-sanctioned stunted learning, poor study habits, and apathetic students are from college-level business students.  Yet if these patterns were discovered in, let’s say, a lower-income, minority-heavy elementary school, no one would bat an eye.  Or even, if this same discovery happened in a semi-elite, private school, where students are found to be pursuing classes simply for the sake of a future rather than for interests, no one would care.

B
asically, what happens in college is simply an overflow of what we’ve gotten used to in the K-12 level.  Regardless of socio-economic factors, the basic issues at hand are universal; it’s only the way they’re expressed that looks different.
*The last two points actually reminded me of this blog post from the Harvard Business Review aptly titled “Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities.” The post highlights the ideal skills a student might reap from a humanities major and poses scenarios where they would be most effective.
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2 responses to ““Students are demanding these [business] majors, and we have to learn how to do them right.” – J. David Hunger, scholar-in-residence (1978)

  1. “History and philosophy, on the other hand, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable for business students. *”

    yeayuh!!!! History majors~

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