Business undergrad majors are not working as hard as they used to, reports a New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education collaborative article titled “The Default Major: Skating Through B-School.” The article cites the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement which reveals that business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in other fields. Most seniors majoring in business spend less than 11 hours studying per week.
And not only do they study less, but they score lower on tests as well suggests another report that states that business majors don’t do as well on the GMAT as do students from other majors.
The article points to three reasons for what can be described as academic apathy. The first is the fact that many undergraduate business students choose their majors “by default.” They are seeking a means to an end, a degree that will get them a job; they are not pursuing the field of business because they are genuinely interested in it.
The second source for this trouble is that there are is no defined undergraduate business curriculum. There is no consensus among professors and among undergraduate business programs as to what these students should learn and how they should learn it.
And finally, most undergraduate business programs have large student-to-faculty ratios and not enough funding to accommodate fully-stocked, functional labs.
Later in the article, Jerry M. Kopf, a management professor at Radford, points to yet another reason for the decline in student commitment. “There are too many other things competing for their time,” he says. “The frequency and quantity of drinking keeps getting higher. We have issues with depression. Getting students alert and motivated—even getting them to class, to be honest with you—it’s a challenge.”
A student at Radford admits to rarely going to class and says, “It just seems kind of pointless to go when (a) you’re probably not going to be paying much attention anyway and (b) it would probably be worth more of your time just to sit with your book and read it.” This student further admits to spending only 10 hours a week studying from his books if he has a test that week, and zero hours if he has no test. And for take-home exams, he says, there’s always Google.
Some professors argue that the problem is in the “fetishizing” of job preparation—that 18-year-olds shouldn’t be taught to specialize in vocational fields like marketing or finance, but should instead be taught the “humanistic, multidisciplinary models of management education.” According to Henry Mintzberg, a professor at Montreal’s McGill University, “The object of undergraduate business education is to educate people, not to give them a lot of functional business stuff.”
Leonard A. Schlesinger, president of Babson College in Massachusetts, agrees: “Concrete business skills tend to expire in five years or so as technology and organizations change. History and philosophy, on the other hand, provide the kind of contextual knowledge and reasoning skills that are indispensable for business students,” he says. “If we didn’t provide that kind of timeless knowledge to our students, we would be providing a seriously inadequate education.”
The article continues to explain that this academic apathy is not as apparent for students who end up at top business schools like Wharton, UVA, or Notre Dame Mendoza, but is seen more in the lower ranked programs.
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