Business School Slackers

, Deborah Lambert, Leave a comment

If America is to retain its prestige in the rapidly expanding global economy, our business schools are going to have to get serious, according to The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s not that business students are low on the IQ scale. It’s that “many of them don’t read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying,” noted economics professor Dr. Paul Mason, adding that “We used to complain that K-12 schools didn’t hold students to high standards, and now here we are doing the same thing ourselves.”  Dr. Mason teaches economics at the University of North Florida.

Facts are facts. According to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, business students not only spend an average of less than 11 hours a week studying, but also score lower on their GMATs than students in any other major. So say sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, who co-authored the highly respected book.

While students at the top 50 or so schools, including Wharton, Notre Dame and others, “are pulling 70-hour weeks,” student apathy has apparently affected a large majority of the others, especially in ‘soft’ fields like management and marketing, which attracts most of today’s business majors.

The fact is that more than 20 percent of our current college graduates are awarded business degrees, making it the most popular major in the country. Scholars see this default choice based on self-interest as part of the problem, since many students decide on business as the best path to finding a job, “not out of curiosity about it.”

However, in management and marketing, it appears that no broad-based, unified curricula have emerged as foundations of knowledge that students must learn before graduation.

“At the big public universities, the administrations need us to be credible, but I’m not sure that they need us to be very good,” according to J. David Hunger. Dr. Hunger is a scholar-in-residence in the management program at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, in Collegeville, MN.  “They need us to be cash cows,” he adds.

Time after time, business school students’ scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which tests writing and reasoning skills, “improve less than any other group’s” – like communication, education, humanities and social science.

Drs. Arum and Roksa believe the reasons for this dismal performance are twofold: the lack of time spent on homework, and the strong reliance on “group assignments in business courses.”  It appears that the more time students spend studying in groups, “the weaker their gains” in writing and reasoning skills.

At Radford University in southwestern Virginia, where most business students are headed to jobs in local insurance companies and banks, they are typically divided into small teams of four or five, who “write a series of reports” during the semester, and “don’t compose a complete paper on their own.”

“The pedagogical theory is that managers need to function in groups, so a management education without such experiences would be like medical training without a residency.”

Radford graduate Juan Triplett, now a teaching assistant, working toward an MBA, estimated that about one-third of B-School students “don’t engage with their schoolwork.” Statistics back this up, showing that “seniors in business invest an average 3.64 hours a week preparing for class, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.”

Case in point: “One senior accounting major at Radford, who asked not to be named so as not to damage his job prospects, says he goes to class only to take tests or give presentations.” He explained that since a lot of courses simply involve doing Power Point from the book, it’s easier to just read the book.

When asked how much time he spent reading textbooks, he said it ranged from zero in a normal week up to ten hours during a week with a test. Plus, with “every take-home test, you can just do a Google. If the question is from a test bank, you can just type the text in, and somebody out there will have it and you can just use that.”

This isn’t unusual, said the student. It’s been like this all four years. He described a typical day as follows: “I just play sports, maybe go to the gym. Eat. Probably drink a little bit. Just kind of goof off all day.” He currently has a 3.3 grade point average.

Dr. Mason, the economics professor at North Florida U., says that although new accreditation requirements are being introduced by some B-Schools, they are “fighting upstream against the tendency to dumb down courses.” This does not bode well for the pragmatic business majors, who viewed their choices as the best path into the job market.

Many surveys report that employers are more concerned with hiring graduates who can “think creatively and analyze quantitative data,” even if they are English or biology majors.


Deborah Lambert writes the Squeaky Chalk column for Accuracy in Academia’s monthly Campus Report newsletter.