Integrated Curriculum in College Business Programs
From their inception in the late 19th century, college business programs have evolved from trade schools to research-oriented academic departments. Although this may be a step forward in some ways, many observers in both the business community and in academia believe that this approach ill-prepares students for leadership and success in the real world. As a result, many business programs are integrating their curricula across disciplines to give students a better picture of how an organization operates. In addition, there is an increased emphasis on the acquisition of practical skills for finding a job, gaining hands-on experience in the real world, and increased professionalism through ethics and social responsibility.
At its most basic, a business is an economic system in which goods and services are exchanged between parties. The metric for the exchange of goods and services is based on their perceived worth, and may be done for money or for other goods and services. To be viable, a business requires an investment, customers, and the ability to consistently sell goods and services at a profit. The fundamentals of this aspect of business have in many ways remained the same since goods and services were first exchanged. However, businesses in the twenty-first century operate differently from earlier organizations, due to the ever increasing advent of new technologies. Modern methods enable businesses to do basic activities faster, better, or with minimal human interference and allow innovative advances in the way they do business that were previously not possible. To be successful, businesses need to adapt and change. In many cases, this means that previous standard operating procedures no longer suffice and businesses must incorporate new technologies or risk losing their market share.
Business programs came into existence in the U.S. during the late nineteenth century, in response to pressure from the business community to teach students practical skills that they could use upon graduation (Bohanon, 2008). Business programs in colleges and universities in the twenty-first century are part of a liberal education. This means that not only do students acquire knowledge and skills appropriate to their chosen career, but also do so while studying other subjects considered part of a well-rounded education. Because the business courses are part of the university experience, they must be disciplined and approached with scientific rigor. This often works against the acquisition of practical skills.
For the most part, business schools are intended to be professional schools on the order of medical, engineering, or law schools, that prepare their students for real-world applications rather than giving them general knowledge. The question, however, is whether business concepts comprise a similar type of skills set as those taught in professional schools. The trend in business schools associated with colleges has been to become more academic rather than practical in nature, with an emphasis on scientific method and research rather than on pragmatic workplace skills. Bennis and O'Toole (2005) observe that many of the faculty members of business schools may not have actually applied the skills they are teaching in real business settings. As a result, many in the business community have decried this practice and have pointed out that many business school graduates seem ill-prepared to be leaders in the business world.
Criticisms regarding business schools abound, including that they do not impart useful skills to students, fail to prepare future leaders for the tasks they will face, do not sufficiently instill ethical norms for business behavior, and, in fact, may not even lead to better corporate jobs for their graduates.
Bennis and O'Toole (2005) believe that at least part of the blame for this practical failure on the part of business schools lies with the fact that while business programs are dedicated to educating future business leaders, they also have the goal of expanding the frontiers of knowledge through scientific research as is practiced in other academic disciplines. Although it can certainly be argued that research is necessary to advance any profession, Bennis and others believe that many business schools focus too much on the theoretical and not enough on the practical. This does not mean, of course, that applying the tenets of science and research to better understand business problems and how to solve them is a bad thing. Rather, Bennis and those who agree with his position believe that many business schools have embraced scientific rigor at the expense of practical knowledge. To rectify this lack of balance, it is suggested that business schools try to pattern themselves more after the approach of other professional schools where research is an important part of the curriculum, but takes second place to learning -- and practicing -- real world skills.
Whether this is the appropriate course of action for business schools in the future depends on whether business can truly be thought of as a profession in the same terms as medicine, dentistry, law, and engineering. Bohanon (2008) notes several characteristics of professional schools. First, they require extensive periods of specific training in order for the student to learn his/her craft. Second, practitioners of the profession have ethical obligations to various stakeholders (e.g., employees, suppliers, distributors, stockholders, customers, the public). Often, these ethical obligations run counter to the monetary interests of the professional, or the obligations to the various stakeholders may be in conflict. Third, professions typically have common bodies of knowledge and certification procedures to affirm that the individual has achieved mastery of that knowledge. Whether these characteristics are representative of the business profession remains a matter of continuing debate (Bohanon, 2008).
Whether business is a profession in the same way as medicine, law, and others may be a matter of debate. However, the observation that many business schools have failed to adequately prepare students for leadership in the real world has been widely noted by students, professors, academic administrators, and corporate observers. In addition, the changing landscape of business possibilities in the twenty-first century has resulted in new emphases:
- The use and leveraging of advanced technology to make better business decisions or improve the efficiency of work processes;
- Issues of environmental impact and sustainability related to the business's products and processes;
- The perceived need to be socially responsible and contribute to the needs of the community in addition to...
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