New college degrees give liberal arts students more business lessons


When Adam Johs was a student at the University of Iowa, he knew he wanted to eventually start a business. But he also knew he didn’t want to take the management courses and other requirements of a traditional business school program.

Instead, the 23-year-old chose the university’s new major in corporate leadership, offered by the liberal arts college. He took courses like psychology and creative writing, in which he wrote about his own life and came to better understand his career goals, he says.

Then, on the business side, he took courses in growing business management and professional preparation for entrepreneurship.

“The mix has been nice,” says Johs, who graduated in December and runs his own landscaping business.

A handful of schools across the country are trying to attract students like Mr. Johs — those who are interested in entrepreneurship but don’t want to major in business. Schools are creating new study programs that allow students to take most of their coursework in any major they want, such as liberal arts or engineering, but blend in with business courses to give them the basics needed to run their own business.

“There is a global attempt to involve more non-business students” in an entrepreneurship program, says Michael Morris, a professor at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame.

Keeping the students in place

One of the main motivations for these new offerings is to bolster majors like the liberal arts, which have lost students to more career-oriented business programs in recent years. Schools hope coeducational majors will keep students more comfortable in non-business disciplines, while ensuring they acquire marketable business skills.

At the same time, business programs recognize that students need foundational skills such as writing, creative thinking, and social psychology, which are not usually the focus of business courses, but are the mainstay of the business. other specializations.

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At the University of Iowa, the Business School collaborated with the College of Liberal Arts to launch the college’s Business Leadership Major in 2015. Liberal Arts students take hands-on business courses, including understood small business accounting and business planning, but skip many courses. that often do not appeal to non-business students, such as negotiation and human resource management. Instead, there are courses that offer less traditional leadership lessons, such as advocacy and social psychology.

Business leadership is one of the fastest growing undergraduate majors, says David Hensley, executive director of the university’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. He says there are now 688 students taking the major, up from 206 in fall 2015.

The major was originally intended for students rejected by business school, but now it also bolsters liberal arts programs by preventing some students from completely decamping for business school, says Helena Dettmer, former dean of undergraduate and university professor. . “We were pleasantly surprised,” she says.

Various origins

Lander University in Greenwood, SC refocused an existing Bachelor of Arts program to include more entrepreneurship courses so that it would be easier for students outside of business school interested in creative careers create a viable business, said Michael Brizek, professor at Lander’s College. work. For example, students take courses that focus on the legal business environment and the management of small and family businesses.

The mix of students from different backgrounds helps entrepreneurship courses become a breeding ground for innovation, says Alexander McKelvie, professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. For example, a business school class in the school formed a team that included a major in commerce and a student from the school of information science who also attended the class. The group launched Smarta, a system that makes it easier for owners of multi-family buildings to find students to rent off-campus housing.

The course “enabled students to recognize different perspectives and approaches to problems and industries,” adds Professor McKelvie.

Ms. Dizik is a writer in Chicago. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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