The National Center for Education Statistics published a statement in 2015 reporting that business degrees are the most popular undergraduate degree in the United States.
Of the 1,870,000 degrees conferred during the one-year study, 358,000 were in the field of business. That’s about one in five. Meanwhile, degrees in health, the professions, social sciences, and psychology — the other most popular areas of study — followed with staggeringly fewer numbers.
And yet, ironically, the American business degree is failing.
“A recent Gallup poll affirmed employer concern. Only one in ten business leaders strongly agreed that institutions were graduating students with the skills and competencies their businesses needed,” writes Forbes.
Richard Arum's book Academically Adrift notes that 45 percent of college students learn practically nothing in their first two years at school. Of that group, business majors (as well as social work and education majors) tend to learn the least, thanks to many schools' poorly-structured academic programs.
Employers are looking to hire complex problem solvers and critical thinkers — graduates who are adaptable in the workplace and willing to make sound ethical judgments when necessary. The students they receive, however, are often equipped with specialized technical skills, yet lack the means to apply them in diverse, real-world settings. Thus, as the degree pool continues to increase, recent graduates find themselves unable to stand out from the crowd. Consequently, employers often hire graduates without business degrees, thanks to the stereotypical low-quality reputation associated with most business programs.
This paradox is uncanny: It seems business majors are at once the most sought-after and the least productive of all degree programs.
So where is the breakdown? It seems there are approximately three key factors that have driven American undergraduate business degrees in such an unfortunate direction. Take a look at the infographic below for more detailed information.
The first issue is the simply excessive size of most student pools. The second and consequent problem is commoditized programs which focus more on making money and recruiting students than actual quality of education. The third and final problem is over-specialization in particular areas of study: students are left with very specific knowledge about very specific elements of business, with little to no foundation in real-world, malleable business practices.
One study (surveying over 400 executives) outlined the learning objectives that typical employers deem “very important” for graduates in the workplace. The accompanying percentages indicate what percentage of employers ranked these qualities highest:
| 85% | The ability to effectively communicate orally
| 83%| The ability to work effectively with others in teams
| 82% | The ability to effectively communicate in writing
| 81% | Ethical judgment and decision-making
| 81% | Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills
| 80% | Application of knowledge and skills to practical settings
It seems there is a fundamental gap between what businesses so desperately need and the skill sets universities increasingly provide.
Click below to find out how PHC's Economics & Business Analytics Program is challenging the status quo in higher education.