Back when I was choosing a major, Business actually had a pretty good rep. Everyone my brothers knew were doing really well with their business degrees, so I figured it had to be a “good major”. Then, when I chose Southern Tech, I went to a school with a really good business program that was particular about who they let in and who they let stay in. So I was kind of surprised when I started reading articles referring to business degrees as something of a joke. Looks like it’s going (or has gone) the way of colleges of education:

That might sound like a kids-these-days lament, but all evidence suggests that student disengagement is at its worst in Mr. Mason’s domain: undergraduate business education.

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.

This is not a small corner of academe. The family of majors under the business umbrella—including 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.

It seems like just about any major that gets a reputation as a pathway to a good or at least decent job, but isn’t inherently difficult or selective, runs the risk of attracting people looking for little more than a pathway to a good or at least decent job. As a subject field, business falls somewhere in between the liberal arts and technical or scientific fields. Unlike, say, engineering, it doesn’t require the black-and-white tough courses. Unlike liberal arts, it does have the potential to be directly applicable as vocational training. I didn’t end up going into the College of Business, but the business courses I did take have proven to be about as helpful as the technical classes I took.

The temptation has to be strong for universities to water everything down because, unlike with some other vocational fields, you can. And there’s really no cap to the number of graduates that can be produced. My brother was warned against engineering because of the lack of jobs available at the time. His particular field of engineering was cyclical and enough others took that advice that by the time he graduated, they were in demand again. But since you can’t point to a specific cycle for business (if the “business” sector is bad, you’re screwed no matter what you major in), there’s nothing to move people towards other avenues of study.


Category: School

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5 Responses to Colleges of Bidness

  1. Peter says:

    Accounting is somewhat more substantial and less fluffy than other types of business.

  2. Kirk says:

    “The temptation has to be strong for universities to water everything down because, unlike with some other vocational fields, you can.”

    I figure at least 75% of what’s taught in business school is b.s. For example, Six Sigma has already been proven to have no positive affect on a business, meaning it’s been discredited. So what do corporations do? Push Six Sigma, because it creates desk jobs.

    Cleaning is now known as “5S”, and will also take a dedicated full-time manager. Like the Six Sigma manager, this person literally cannot screw anything up because all they do is generate meaningless paperwork (charts, graphs, matrices, etc.).

    From what I’ve seen you could eliminate half of all management positions in any corporation and it would still function. The reason the positions exist is “networking,” also known as cronyism.

    That fact that networking is done out in the open just shows how little shame anyone in management has.

  3. trumwill says:

    Kirk,

    I can’t speak for business school specifically, but my business classes were mostly practical in nature and not theoretical as Six Sigma. My classes included things like business law, entrepreneurship*, human resources, and occupational safety. All rooted to some extent in laws (for instance, entrepreneurship went over the different legal business structures and so on) and current business customs (which is helpful to know).

    On the other hand, my brother is an engineer by training but now does administrative work. His employer determined that it was a heck of a lot easier to teach an engineer business than vice-versa.

  4. trumwill says:

    Peter, I think the more specific the major, the less loose the education is likely to be. If you have an accounting major, you have to teach them accounting. Or finance, for that matter. On the other hand, what is “business”, generally speaking? Since it’s such a gray area, there’s a lot more room to make it easy. There’s nothing specific that a business major “has” to know.

  5. Maria says:

    For example, Six Sigma has already been proven to have no positive affect on a business, meaning it’s been discredited. So what do corporations do? Push Six Sigma, because it creates desk jobs.

    Co-sign on the Six Sigma fad, as well as the Daily Process Management Fad, the “Re-Engineering” Fad, the Total Quality Management fad, the Matrix Management Fad,the “Diversity” Management Fad, and a few others you may or may not be old enough to remember.

    Never underestimate the sheer money-wasting stupidity of Corporate America.

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