At the beginning of freshman year and end of sophomore year, students in the study took the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a national essay test that assesses students’ writing and reasoning skills. During those first two years of college, business students’ scores improved less than any other group’s. Communication, education and social-work majors had slightly better gains; humanities, social science, and science and engineering students saw much stronger improvement.
If one measures success by income, Radford’s graduates fare decently. In a typical year, 65 percent had jobs three months after graduation, with a mean starting salary just above $40,000. On average nationally, business students enter the work force with higher starting salaries than humanities and social science majors. By mid-career, however, some of those liberal arts majors, including political science and philosophy majors, have closed the gap.
Some believe it is a mistake to fetishize job preparation and the “rigor” of fields like accounting and finance. Those departments might demand more hours from their students, but they don’t necessarily provide well-rounded educations, says Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill University in Montreal who is a dogged critic of traditional business programs. He says it is a “travesty” to offer vocational fields like finance or marketing to 18-year-olds. Instead, he supports a humanistic, multidisciplinary model of management education. The diversity of topics reflected on Adrianna Berry’s cheat sheet is a feature, not a bug, he says.
“The object of undergraduate business education is to educate people, not to give them a lot of functional business stuff.”
A coming report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching praises 10 American colleges of business as models for integrating the liberal arts and practical training.
One of the institutions praised is Babson College, a business school in Massachusetts. Its president, Leonard A. Schlesinger, says that 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.