Questioning the value of a business major

by Grace

The value of a business major is being questioned by employers, school administrators, and faculty members.

The biggest complaint: The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don’t develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses.

Companies say they need flexible thinkers with innovative ideas and a broad knowledge base derived from exposure to multiple disciplines. And while most recruiters don’t outright avoid business majors, companies in consulting, technology and even finance say they’re looking for candidates with a broader academic background.

Bring in the liberal arts disciplines and teach writing!

Schools are taking the hint. The business schools at George Washington University, Georgetown University, Santa Clara University and others are tweaking their undergraduate business curricula in an attempt to better integrate lessons on history, ethics and writing into courses about finance and marketing.

Along with more than 20 other U.S. and European business schools, those institutions met last month at George Washington for a conference to discuss ways to better integrate a liberal-arts education into the business curriculum. It was organized by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit group with an arm that studies management education and society. Other participants included Franklin & Marshall College, Babson College and Esade, a business and law school at Barcelona’s Ramon Llull University.

Employers want these changes

Such changes should appease recruiters, who have been seeking well-rounded candidates from other disciplines, such as English, economics and engineering. Even financial companies say those students often have sharp critical-thinking skills and problem-solving techniques that business majors sometimes lack.

I’m reminded of this comment by an employer on why a solid liberal arts education is valuable in the business world.

The issue has nothing to do with distribution requirements, number of courses outside the major, etc. Put simply, when we hire an English major from Swarthmore or Williams we know he or she can write. When we hire an Engineering student (for a non-engineering job, by the way) from Cornell or Princeton or JHU we know they won’t need remedial math. When we hire an anthropology major from Chicago or Wellesley we know he or she won’t need help finding Malaysia on a map. We’ve hired kids with undergrad business degrees from a variety of schools (public and private) and found the talent pool decidedly mixed. Entrance requirements to the honors societies are weak; GPA’s are inflated by classes like “Organizational Leadership” or “Healthcare in Society”. And take a 90 page report and create an executive summary of three pages plus two appendices? Forget it.

We’d rather teach a Phi Beta Kappa in History from Amherst what Organizational Leadership is, than have to teach the Beta Alpha Psi from XYZ business program who Mao was and why you need to understand Communism in order to write a business plan for a product launch for our Beijing office.

Related:  Liberal arts skills are profitable for college graduates

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