The race to the bottom…

Here’s a pretty scathing article (reproduced below) about business education from The Economist website entitled “The race to the bottom”.  At least the article recognizes that “It is notable that students who focus on “hard” subjects, such as finance, put in much more work than those who study “leadership” and the like.”

“IN MY day people who wanted an easy time at university studied geography or land management. Now, in the United States at least, the soft-option of choice is business studies. Business students of various sorts are the most numerous group on American campuses, accounting for 20%, or more than 325,000, of all bachelor degrees. They are also, according to a long article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, by far the idlest and most ignorant.

Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field: less than 11 hours a week in the case of more than half of them. Not coincidentally, they also register the smallest gains in test scores in their first two years in college. One student, with a respectable 3.3 grade-point average, describes his typical day: “I just play sports, maybe go to the gym. Eat. Probably drink a little bit. Just kind of goof around all day.”

What accounts for this educational wasteland? To some extent it is a matter of self-selection. Many people choose business studies precisely because they don’t have a lot going on upstairs. And they prefer to spend their time networking and looking for jobs rather than, say, grappling with Schumpeter’s ideas about business cycles. But universities also bear some of the blame. Many universities have treated business studies as a cash cow: there is lots of demand, business students do not require expensive laboratories, and business academics can supplement their incomes with outside consultancy. Business studies is also a mish-mash of subjects, many of them soft and ill-defined, like leadership and business ethics. It is notable that students who focus on “hard” subjects, such as finance, put in much more work than those who study “leadership” and the like.

Students also complain about the quality of teaching. Why pay attention in class when all the instructor is doing is regurgitating chunks of a textbook? And why bother stretching yourself intellectually when the university does not seem to know what you are supposed to be studying (is business studies a branch of economics or psychology, international relations or history?)

Whatever the explanation, the dismal state of business education is beginning to register in popular culture, and presumably reduce the job prospects of the people who study it. In “Futurama”, Gunther decides to give up studying science, which is too demanding, and reconcile himself to a future as a moderately successful monkey who wears a suit to work. He enrolls in business school.”

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