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.