Education for Business

A recent article in Inside Higher Ed was headlined “Freshmen Abandon Business.” The article noted that the percentage of freshmen intending to study business at American universities – 14.4 percent in 2009 – was at its lowest since the 1970’s. Yet with twenty-two percent of undergraduates actually concentrating in it, business is the largest major by far – by comparison, only two percent major in history. (As Louis Menand reminds us in his book The Marketplace of Ideas, while economics falls under the liberal arts, pre-professional business studies do not.)
There are many reasons why business remains as popular as it has. Today some two thirds of students put financial gain at the top of their career considerations, and business studies still seem the pathway to that. Students are surrounded by business every day –shopping for clothes, buying food, and filling up their cars. In middle school they do Business America programs and in high school they join FBLA. No wonder many come to believe President Calvin Coolidge’s maxim that “America’s business is business.” And that is fine, if it is what stirs a student’s enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, many high school students still believe that to do business, they have to study business as undergraduates. This has long not been the case. Sometimes the training a prospective businessperson may need most is the ability to generate a creative idea, reflect critically on its viability, and then communicate it effectively to others. And a degree in English or history, for example, where there is a premium on writing skills and where students are taught to construct analyses and arguments, may do that job the best. Business is also becoming more specialized and globalized. These days, trading in the markets of Shanghai, taking up the cause of health care in America, or producing green energy, require backgrounds in fields as diverse as environmental science, biochemistry, political studies, or engineering. So the academic pathways to a lucrative career in the field of business are boundless. As the application to Stanford’s business school points out, their MBA students have majored in everything from economics to religious studies: “There is no “ideal” undergraduate major for business school; therefore, choose a major that you find interesting and engaging.”

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