Inside Higher Ed‘s Dan Berrett writes about recent data from the American Freshmen Survey and business school admissions anecdotes to ask whether today’s college students are less interested in studying business. From the article at Inside Higher Education:
The drop has been particularly stark at Pennsylvania State University, which, since 2008, has seen a 30 percent decline in undergraduates accepting offers from its Smeal College of Business, said Anne Rohrbach, executive director of undergraduate admissions. “Fewer students see that a business degree guarantees career and financial returns,” she said via e-mail. She attributed this decrease, in part, to Smeal limiting its enrollment and admitting students with a stronger record of academic achievement, which can depress yield rates. But the number of applications to Penn State’s program during this period has dropped by nearly the same percentage as acceptances, she said.
Rohrbach also thinks the larger economic picture has played a role. “With the headline news of the recession, students are not as certain about a future in business,” she said. The ranks of the undeclared, always well-populated, have grown, she said, as a result of the uncertain job market.
Penn State is not alone. The share of business majors in the University of Central Florida’s undergraduate student body is down by nearly 15 percent this semester relative to 2008. At Purdue University, nearly 13 percent fewer students enrolled at the Krannert School of Management this semester compared to two years ago, and in 2009 the number of applicants dropped 26 percent from the year previous before edging back up this year. The tumult in the business world has made students and their parents more wary about job prospects after graduation, said Mitch Warren, senior associate director of admissions at Purdue. “There are cyclical trends in many areas; business is no different,” said Warren, who added that these cycles of popularity need to be seen as part of a longer-term pattern of natural ups and downs. “Things that are doing quite well now in five or six years might not be.”
The point is made in the article that areas of interest of entering freshmen differs dramatically from degrees offered — did you know what you were majoring in when you entered college? (I did not).
Additionally, in arguing for business school strength, supporters point to the strong interest that young people have in launching their own firms in the future. This is proof of strong demand into the future they argue.
Many of those interested in building their own firms, who eventually become self-employed, do not major in business (see Moutray’s research).
Business school is the locus of entrepreneurship on most campuses, but specialty programs in engineering, arts, and social entrepreneurship have grown outside of the business school. Is that a reason students are souring on business? Is it the growing social/political problems and the rise of massive federal salaries?