Monday, June 27, 2011

The Business Higher Ed Enigma

According to, an enigma is a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation.” I think there are aspects of the typical higher education business curriculum that are enigmatic.

For example, one would expect that a college business student would graduate with a good understanding of business, or to use a perhaps more general term, commerce. But is that what really happens?

Business students get a core curriculum that (typically) contains exposure to the functional areas of business. In other words, they are required to take an accounting course, a finance course, a marketing course, a management course, etc. Along with this core business education, students will take six to ten courses in a major area. For example, an accounting major will take six to ten courses in accounting. Many business schools include a required “capstone” course in business strategy. The goal of the capstone course is to “bring it all together” so that the student understands the context of the business enterprise.

The enigma occurs in this: the business world has increasingly emphasized the integrated nature of business over the last two or three decades, but business schools still graduate functional area specialists. Business leaders emphasize that the days when accounting, marketing, engineering, and so forth occurred in silos are long gone, yet business schools still produce silo specialists.

I think there are several reasons for this situation. One is that we have been too slow to adapt curricula to a changing business environment. Another is that many businesses still come to campus to recruit specific majors. Neither the students nor the corporate recruiters are really complaining about this situation, so focusing on how to “fix” these issues is likely to be unproductive.

Instead, I would prefer to imagine a different business school context; one that may evolve into a more attractive business education reality. With that in mind, here are two ideas I hope to explore in the next blog entries:

What would a business school core curriculum look like if it were organized differently?

Is one capstone course really adequate in today’s business education?

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