In recent months, there has been much debate surrounding whether or not business education is properly preparing students for the real world. As what some people call "a lifetime student," I can attest to the rigor and relevance that I have experienced during my undergraduate and continuing graduate business education (all from AACSB-accredited institutions). But aside from the many aspects of a business course, my absolute favorite activity is a project that allows me to apply my classroom knowledge to a real-life situation with a real business. Give me real money to work with, and real risks to take. For instance, at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, undergraduates were recently given the opportunity to manage a 5 million USD investment fund. And at Mississippi State University (and many others around the world with entrepreneurship programs), students have to pitch their business ideas to venture capitalists during a 90-second elevator ride. I know that even as an undergraduate, this type of activity is what made it all come together for me.
In the most recent broadcast of eNEWSLINE Live, Dr. Stefanie Lenway, dean of the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University in the United States, spoke of her support for real-life experiences at the undergraduate level. Dr. Lenway, a dean with experience from several schools that have successfully integrated real-life experiences into their programs, explained the importance of providing students with opportunities to test what they have learned in the classroom. She elaborated, by working with local organizations or establishing student-run enterprises, students are able to frame problems, work with real data, deal with people, and develop project management skills. All of which are skills that companies are looking for from business graduates.
From a student's perspective, providing real-life experiences not only allows me to test what I have learned in the classroom, but also provides me with a safe place to fail. I have learned so much by working with executives during our case competitions and consulting projects. For instance, the first time I read Porter's Five Forces I skimmed through it in memorization mode as it was just another model that would be on the exam. However, the first time I actually applied Porter's Five Forces to a business that was entering a new market (thanks to the University of South Florida's Master of Science in Entrepreneurship in Applied Technologies program) I was pleasantly surprised how well the model focused my strategic thinking. I can say the same for the Value Chain and SWOT analysis—and cash flow projections, financial ratio analyses, the supply and demand curve, etc., etc.
Video: Dr. Lenway Discusses Several Skills Employers Seek from Business Graduates
As Dr. Lenway explained in her discussion on eNEWSLINE Live, today's employers seek employees that are able to build and identify alternative paths to solutions, as well as develop rationale to support their decisions. They want employees that can effectively communicate to external and internal stakeholders through solid oral and writing skills. But also, and perhaps most importantly, they need leaders that have integrity and the ability to listen. All of which are behaviors that can be taught in the classroom and further rationalized through real-life projects such as case competitions, analyzing local businesses, starting enterprises, and internships.