B-School Students Behaving Badly?


The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education recently collaborated on a piece that investigated the concerns about undergraduate business students’ study habits that are highlighted in the popular book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses and elsewhere.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift, claim that business majors had the “weakest gains” in their first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. The book also reports that business students taking the GMAT, an examination for entry into MBA programs, generally score lower than students in every other major.

In the article, published by The New York Times on April 14, 2011, senior writer for the Chronicle David Glenn noted that students in business programs such as those at Notre Dame and the University of Pennsylvania study hard. But below the “top 50 schools” the majority of business majors are studying the so-called “soft” subjects such as management and marketing.

While the Times and Chronicle article quotes economics professor Paul M. Mason of the University of North Florida as not giving the same exams to students as he did 10 or 15 years ago because many of them wouldn’t pass. Mason said it is not because they aren’t as intelligent but instead “many of them don’t read their textbooks.”

Academically Adrift looks at the performance of students from 24 colleges and universities nationwide based on a basic skills and reasoning tests. The results show that business students’ scores on the test improved significantly less than any other group’s. The authors attribute some of these numbers to the small amount of hours business students spend studying, or a classroom setting that usually involves lots of group projects. And while group projects are reported to be a staple in the managing and marketing educations of a business major, having a student dedicate all of his or her study-time to group work doesn’t allow for personal improvement in the basic math and reasoning skills that are emphasized on the tests.

Ironically, other critics suggest non-business skills such as arts and foreign languages could help make tomorrow’s business leaders more global and critical than their predecessors, some of whom were  blamed for the the recent financial collapse.

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