Business education generally refers to the plethora of courses designed to provide students with any number of skills needed for success in business, especially those related to launching and running businesses. These range from advanced management science and marketing courses as part of degree programs—such as the master of business administration—to typing and computer courses taken for personal career goals. Community colleges, universities, small private business schools, and professional/community organizations offer business education classes.

With some focus on theoretical issues—especially in advanced courses for degrees—business education classes largely tend to prepare students for real-life business situations and emphasize practical, utilitarian techniques and methods for conducting business. Market demands and trends usually drive business education programs, dictating the kinds of classes offered and their theoretical framework. For example, the prevailing emphasis on teamwork by companies in the 1990s led business education programs to teach collaborative work and management skills.

While the number of business majors tapered off in the 1960s to about 13 percent, they rebounded in the 1980s accounting for almost 25 percent of all undergraduate majors. Furthermore, interest in business education continued to grow in the 1990s. Because of a glut of business degree holders produced during this period, however, businesses and business educators began rethinking the kinds of skills needed to succeed in business. In addition, the overabundance of people with business degrees in the 1990s forced business school graduates to differentiate themselves from their counterparts.

Business schools also found themselves caught up in a debate over providing real-world business experience to students through entrepreneurship programs. Proponents of such programs argue that students require practical, hands-on preparation for starting and running businesses while in school, so that when they are graduated they can start or run businesses immediately. Schools such as the University of California at Berkeley's Hass School of Business offer such school funded entrepreneurship programs. Other schools such as Harvard Business School contend that if students launch and manage businesses while in school, they will miss out on a general business education. Instead, such schools urge students to gain real-world business experience by working in a corporation for three to five years after graduation.

Furthermore, business classes began focusing more on communication skills late in the 20th century. Surveys and studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s concluded that the crucial skills sought by companies ultimately were communication skills, especially speaking and listening. As a consequence, more business classes such as accounting and marketing began trying to hone students' communication skills in addition to teaching the principles and techniques of the discipline.

Additionally, a variety of studies and reports by business education observers and practitioners indicate that companies seek employees with practical problem-solving skills, knowledge of how the U.S. economy works, and a general understanding of key aspects of business such as accounting, finance, marketing, and purchasing—besides specific technical skills students learn from business courses.


In 1881 the University of Pennsylvania through its Wharton Business School became the first university in the United States to offer undergraduate training in business. About a decade later, Dartmouth College offered the first master's degree in business through its Tuck Business School. Initially, college business courses focused on political science, law, economics, and the observations and advice of successful businesspeople. These courses strove to teach practical methods of accounting, finance, and production.

Around World War 11, the business school curriculum began to change by including new disciplines such as marketing, management, and employer/employee relations. At the same time, business schools implemented the case method of learning (interactive analysis of real-world business problems or "cases") and started focusing on business-related research. Between 1946 and 1966, business schools expanded not only their offerings but also their enrollment, while their courses continued to change. During this period, business scholars began to view management and other fields of business study as sciences. Consequently, business researchers borrowed theories and principles from the behavior sciences and applied them to business theory.

By the 1960s, graduate degrees in business became popular, in particular the master of business administration (MBA). Business doctoral programs started to attract many students who otherwise might have chosen degrees in fields such as economics, psychology, and law. From the 1960s to the 1980s, business schools achieved greater recognition as academic institutions and received greater interest from students. In the early 1960s, only about 15 percent of the country's undergraduates majored in business, but by the mid-1980s, about 25 percent of all undergraduates majored in business. Moreover, the number of MB As received mushroomed from 5,800 to over 70,000 during the same period.


Traditional college business education programs offer courses that teach students the fundamentals of management, marketing, ethics, accounting, and other related business fields. Students can earn degrees ranging from an associate's degree to a Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy). Some programs may consist of only class work, while others—such as cooperative education programs and internships —combine academics with on-the-job training.

Cooperative (co-op) education allows students to learn business concepts and techniques through college courses and to gain work experience related to their majors. Co-op programs are available in a wide range of business fields, e.g., information systems, accounting, and sales. Participants enroll in a postsecondary educational program while employed in a related job. Most co-op participants are paid by their employers. The co-op program provides students with the work experience they need to obtain full-time employment after graduation. More than 1,000 post-secondary educational institutions and 50,000 employers participate in co-op programs throughout the United States.

Internships are closely related to co-op programs. The main difference, however, is that those who participate in internship programs generally are not paid, as internships are designed specifically to provide participants with work experience. Interns usually spend a semester—usually in the spring and summer—at a business off campus. The number of internships available to students rose 37 percent between 1992 and 1997, reaching more than 40,000, according to Peterson's Internships 1997. Internships benefit both students and companies in that students cultivate hands-on business skills, while companies are afforded a low-cost, low risk method of training and hiring employees.


Geared towards providing practical, applicable skills, the master's of business administration (MBA) program constitutes one of the most common kinds of formal business education. Graduate business schools such as Harvard Business School and the Wharton Business School (University of Pennsylvania) as well as many small and sometimes unaccredited business schools offer MBA programs. Over the decades, the MBA evolved into a program that focuses on fostering management skills. Consequently, MBA programs strive to produce qualified managers by providing a meld of practical and academic training. Business schools set as their goals imparting solid analytical, communication, and organizational skills, which effective managing requires.

MBA programs and requirements vary from school to school. Some schools emphasize general business skills that graduates can apply to a host of fields, whereas others allow students to specialize in areas such as industrial management. In addition, most schools offer joint-degree programs such as MBA/M.A. in library science or MBA/J.D. programs. Nevertheless, MBA programs usually include the following core classes: accounting, economics, finance, human organizational behavior, marketing, and production. While MBA programs focused on teaching general analytical skills in the 1970s and 1980s, they began emphasizing specialized or customized training for collaborative-structured business environments in response to demands by the business community.

The MBA provides its holders with significant benefits, including managerial credibility, certified skills, and employment and earning power. First, business-school graduates demonstrate commitment to their professions and careers as well as leadership by obtaining MB As. Second, because of the core requirements of most MBA programs, MBA holders possess, at the very least, a basic set of management skills sought by employers. Third, MBA recipients earn considerably more than their BBA (bachelor's of business administration) counterparts and much more more than B.A. recipients, according to the College Council Board. Students from the leading business schools, for example, typically receive multiple offers and starting salaries ranging from $75,000-$150,000, according to Fortune magazine.

[ Karl Hell ]


Branch, Shelly. "MBAs are Hot Again—and They Know It." Fortune, 14 April 1997.

Green, Kenneth C., and Daniel T. Seymour. Who's Going to Run, General Motors? Princeton, NJ: Peterson's Guides, 1991.

Ryan, Cathy, and Roberta H. Krapels. "Organizations and Internships." Business Communication Quarterly, December 1997.

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