Designing Top Undergrad Business Degrees

Penn freshmen move in today, some to embark in one of the world's top undergraduate business programs. Photo credit: University Communications.

Penn freshmen move in today, some to embark in one of the world’s top undergraduate business programs. Photo credit: University Communications.

Play the word association game: I say “business school,” you respond “MBA.” Not so fast. Undergraduate business education is booming. The driver is clear. High college costs coupled with tough job markets means more and more 18-year-olds want undergraduate degrees that make them job ready.

The notion of an undergraduate business degree might seem strange to people steeped in America’s rich liberal arts tradition. Not so outside the U.S., where professional training at the undergraduate level has long been commonplace and close to one in three degrees are in business. And increasingly not so in the U.S., where about 20 percent of all undergraduate degrees are also in business.

But how should we design a great undergraduate business degree? The answer cannot be simply shrink-wrapping the MBA.

Compared with MBA students, undergraduates tend to be younger, more technically skilled and less experienced. We have to leverage their technical prowess but also help them develop leadership skills.

That means giving liberal arts balance to business studies, as Wharton does. It might mean coding and data science classes to complement finance and accounting. It certainly means more focus on teamwork, communication and experiential learning—the second dimension that will turn analysts on graduation into tomorrow’s executives.

It is great that Wharton’s undergraduate program is widely regarded as the best in the U.S. In my opinion, it is the best in the world. Our students blow me away with their focus, maturity and accomplishment at such tender ages. Our dual degrees with engineering, international studies and life sciences are path breaking. Our undergraduate alumni, including LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner W92, are beyond impressive.

But we can do more. That is why Wharton is doing a full-scale review of our core undergraduate degree.

Business schools cannot afford to take their eyes off the rapidly changing world of the MBA. But undergraduate business education is also very important. I am glad that Wharton is a global leader in both, and we certainly aren’t resting on our laurels.

Editor’s note: The original version of this article appeared on LinkedIn on Feb 25, 2015.

 





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