Is An Entrepreneurial Degree Worth It?

In yesterday’s WSJ Carl Schramm argued that entrepreneurial degrees may not be worth the effort. “Entrepreneurship is apparently an occupational category now, yet when it comes to judging the value of what they teach, its practitioners are flying blind.” I get the need to write something controversial, but when you write something that is not well thought out, I think you have a problem. That does not mean I disagree with everything that Schramm said.

Schramm begins by complaining that the problems associated with entrepreneurial classes are the fact that they are written by business professors. This in itself seems silly to me. Who else are you going to have write these classes? “The teaching approach, cobbled together from strategic-planning and venture-finance insights, is more prescriptive than objective, telling students what they should do instead of teaching business basics.” I don’t know what programs he is referring to, but most entrepreneurial majors require the taking of a business core; in other words, business basics.

There are six critical areas of study when it comes to business: Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Economics, Management/Leadership, and Entrepreneurship. Any business program worth the dollars students pay for it will cover these six areas. So I am confused by Mr. Schramm’s comments.

He then takes the time and a few words to say that entrepreneurial students do not need to learn how to write a business plan or how to raise capital. I find this statement quite troubling. Planning, organizing, leading, and controlling are the basic functions of running a business. Although he states that most major players today in business started without a business plan, I would disagree. I would venture to guess that each of these endeavors he mentioned had some level of planning. Maybe not to the level of detail we teach in our classes, but there was a plan. And whether one presents their plan to a board of venture capitalists or to a family member, they are raising funds to help kickstart, bootstrap, raise capital, or whatever your want to call it when you start your business.

The last section of his editorial discusses the weakness of using case study methodology to teach a subject, which to me is another problem with his analysis. Case study, whether it is written or an actual event, is a safe place to develop thoughtful patterns of action. A written case study is a wonderful way to get students to explore a topic and decide what action they would take in a given scenario. Visiting an actual entrepreneur’s business gives the student a model that will help them be more successful. Both are considered case studies.

I will admit I agree with Mr. Schramm when he states that we need more evidence-based documentation to prove the validity of an entrepreneurial program. But his focus of this measurement is only whether a student actually starts an entrepreneurship or not. This misses the point. Entrepreneurial students may wait until they reach their forties to start a small business, but I guarantee they will use the skills they developed during their years in college in any career they may choose.

I have been involved with starting a new major at Warner Pacific College. It is an entrepreneurial program, but one focused on Social Entrepreneurship. Bill Drayton describes Social Entrepreneurs as, “not concerned with giving someone in need a fish, or even teaching someone to fish, they are concerned with revolutionizing the fishing industry.” Social Entrepreneurs are innovators who want to use the skills associated with business to create positive social change. I am all for that.

Our program teaches our students the basics of business. They take accounting, economics, leadership, and other basic business courses. But they take Sociology and Theology courses too. The goal is to help our students have a strong technical business foundation, develop character, use their talents for good, and to realize that those who have been given much have a greater responsibility to give back. In other words the goal of their entrepreneurship is not just economic profit, but social profit too.

So Mr. Schramm, although I may agree with some of what you said, I strongly disagree with your criticisms of teaching entrepreneurship. An entrepreneurial degree is worth it!

And that is my thought for the day!




One thought on “Is An Entrepreneurial Degree Worth It?

  1. It is true that many classes are taught by people with no real life experience, and that has devalued the meaning of “academic” as not experiential. In science most higher ed schools have tried to link their professorship with their scientific endeavor. In the same way business schools should have business incubators where business teaching professors are in business.

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