Written by: Scott A. Beaulier
In recent years, business programs — both undergraduate and graduate — have been criticized as irrelevant and disconnected from the “real world.”
Just 20 years ago when I was a student, business programs and MBA programs in particular, had a fair amount of sizzle and prestige. Students with just undergraduate business degrees could count on higher starting salaries and strong job placements.
Fast forward to 2017, and we see a much different landscape. Undergraduate business degrees, while still valuable, aren’t the magic bullet for corporate climbing that they were when I was young. And, MBA programs across the country are on the defensive due to growing doubts about the value of a professional degree, and complaints from employers that recent graduates are unprepared for jobs.
Amidst this debate I see opportunity. As I begin my second full semester as Dean of NDSU’s College of Business, I feel energized by the opportunity to develop a program of business study unlike any other in the country. And, the fertile ground Fargo-Moorhead provides for academic-entrepreneurial fusion is exciting.
Many of the critiques lobbed at current educational models are correct. The study of business and doing business should not exist in silos. I firmly believe that there is plenty that business academics and business practitioners can learn from each other — and that these are roles that one can fill simultaneously. Here’s what we’re doing at NDSU’s CoB to put this philosophy into action:
- We’re getting out in the community and listening to major employers about what gaps they see in our interns and graduating students, and what trends they see going forward. I’ve done a lot of listening and have encouraged alumni of our programs and employers to “be harsh and direct” about what we’re doing well and where we can improve. We’re committed to making sure our graduates leave campus ready to excel in today’s economy and quickly become our next generation business
- We’re bringing to campus, some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs and business practitioners in our area and from around the country to engage with students. A career in business is sure to have both success and failure. Hearing from those in the trenches is invaluable and essential to a practical business education. Fargo-Moorhead is an entrepreneurial hot bed. From micro-brewing to high-tech innovation, this area is bursting with good ideas and people that put those ideas into action. NDSU would be foolish not to take advantage of this tremendous resource in our backyard.
- We’re encouraging and fostering entrepreneurialism among our students, now! We’re advancing our approach of breaking down the walls between studying business and doing business by opening our building and hosting programs like the YEA Scholars Program, a special 1 Million Cups here in Barry Hall on Wednesday, January 25th, and Start-Up Weekend, March 3-5. These programs help us connect with people actually “doing entrepreneurship,” and they encourage students to put what they are learning in the classroom into practice through entrepreneurial ventures. There’s no reason to put off the process of trial and error inherent in business.
- We’re also breaking down traditional walls within academia by making our programs more accessible to non-business students. Our Certificate in Professional Selling, for example, is open to any NDSU student because we think understanding sales is important to everyone, not just business students. The basics of entrepreneurship are so vital to a person’s future success that we think all students should have access to knowledge about topics like funding a start-up and reading a balance sheet.
Making a college of business relevant is no small task. It means breaking out of old ways of thinking and resisting the urge to follow the paths so many other schools have followed. It requires thinking differently about the way we do everything — from our scheduling of classes to recognition for service and research. But, more than anything else, making a college relevant requires the guts to try, fail, and then try something else. Sounds a lot like entrepreneurship!
Scott A. Beaulier is Dean for the College of Business at North Dakota State University (NDSU). You can follow him on Twitter: @ScottABeaulier