Carnegie Study Calls for Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education

June, 2011
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Business is the most popular field of undergraduate study. The authors of a new book, drawn from a study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, argue that business education can be strengthened by supporting key elements of liberal learning integrated with business disciplines. They believe that this integration will help students acquire tools for advancing their business careers and also help them understand the roles and responsibilities of business in society, think creatively, and develop wise, ethically grounded professional judgment.

“Too often undergraduate business programs fail to prepare graduates to understand deeply what their lives could be about in any full sense or what their places should be in the world around them,” the authors write. “As a result, they are not adequately prepared to be leaders in business or to gain full satisfaction in their personal and civic lives.” The authors found that even in high-quality programs students often say they were taught that “everything is business”—overlooking the different values represented by their families and communities. Too often these programs seem to be viewed by faculty and administrators as a “simplified MBA” rather than integral parts of undergraduate education.

“We began our research with an understanding, which was subsequently reinforced by our observations, that business majors typically experience the liberal arts and sciences in ways that are weak or episodic,” the authors write. “Many business students see liberal arts courses as largely irrelevant to their education.”

They call for a more integrative approach. “Starting with this premise shifts the framing away from the familiar refrain of requiring more ‘exposure’ of business students to liberal arts courses. Rather, the issue becomes how to reconfigure business preparation overall in order to develop students’ abilities to integrate business knowledge and skills with a broad understanding of the world and our times so as to be able to participate in the larger social world, as business professionals but also as citizens and as persons,” the authors write.


Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education coverRethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession is published by Jossey-Bass. Authors are Anne Colby, Thomas Ehrlich, William M. Sullivan and Jonathan R. Dolle. The Business, Entrepreneurship and Liberal Learning (BELL) project, from which this work was drawn, was funded by Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Teagle Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation of New York. For more information, visit