Trendspotting: A Business Major Is Not the Easy Way Out

St. Thomas business students work hard, care for others and enter the workforce with a strong, valued liberal arts education

In the past six months, news reports have cited that the undergraduate business major is considered a "default" degree - an "easy" degree where students spend less time studying than students in other degrees. Critique also has been given that a business degree is viewed by many as a path to a job, but not to a well-rounded education and enlightenment.

In light of these recent comments in the media, my advising staff and I have used this opportunity to reflect upon our undergraduate business program at the University St. Thomas.

For more than 20 years, an average of 30 percent of the incoming freshman class at St. Thomas has indicated business as its primary intended major, along with 48 percent of the transfer students. There is an increase in the percentage of students indicating interest in business from the freshman to sophomore years. We believe this increase is due to the exploration that our liberal arts curriculum and the business core allow. Students are encouraged to explore broadly before making a commitment, and after that exploration, many more students make an informed choice to select business. They do not enter business by default.

Another point recently raised in the media is that students studying business spend less time studying than do students in other majors.

Perhaps much of this difference is due to how students define "studying." In the minds of many, studying is defined as a solitary act of preparing for exams using books or other materials. Certainly business students need to master the fundamentals of their courses, and that mastery is often best obtained via solitary interaction with books and notes; however, the pedagogy of most of our courses demands that students are involved experientially in their course work.

Our business education includes a wide variety of experiences that reflect the reality of the working world, such as semester-long group projects, individual and group research and presentations, and consultation with small businesses. Additionally, service learning and internships provide students with the opportunity to apply and enhance classroom theory and gain a firsthand understanding of how business works. Most of the students we talked with agreed that their time spent in preparation for class was much more than "studying" in the traditional sense of the word. But, are they engaged in their learning? We believe that our students are perhaps even more engaged than some of their university peers because their learning extends well beyond the classroom and requires outcomes based on integration.

We also want to recognize the learning that takes place for our students through their club, co-curricular and service involvements. Would any student describe preparing for a national competition as "studying"? Doubtful. But, is the task demanding, time-consuming and developmental? Absolutely. Does this co-curricular involvement enhance their learning and prepare them to be outstanding professionals? Absolutely.

In the new Carnegie Foundation Study of undergraduate business education, recommendations include a call for business schools to integrate liberal arts and practical training. Because of our commitment to the integration of career preparation and liberal arts, all undergraduate business majors are required to take our traditional St. Thomas liberal arts core in addition to a rigorous business curriculum that includes courses in each of the functional areas of business and business ethics. Math, statistics, economics and communication are also required. The integration of career preparation and liberal arts has been a commitment of undergraduate education at St. Thomas for more than 100 years.

And, for the past 20 years, all business majors complete a 40- hour service course, Business Learning through Service. While students may not begin their BUSN200 course enthusiastic about what they will learn, most students leave recognizing that learning while engaging in meaningful partnerships with the community is a fundamental outcome of this course. Business is the only major at St. Thomas that has a service requirement for graduation for all of its undergraduate students. We are proud of our history of this structured learning for our students, which helps them develop both the skills and the philosophy to become significant community partners and agents of change.

So, are undergraduate students selecting business as their major because of a lightened demand on their intellects or their preparation? That is not the makeup of the students we observe and interact with each day; rather, we see students who are highly engaged in preparing themselves to be outstanding leaders who will serve their businesses and communities well, students who are trying to master the skills that will be demanded of them to move our communities, our country and our globe ahead. We work with students who often are responding to "a calling" to ensure that their employees, their customers, their investors and all of their other stakeholders are treated well and fairly. Slackers? Looking for an easy degree? We don’t think so. We know our students are individuals who are striving hard to make a difference through their future organizational lives.

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