April 27, 2011

Study Finds Business Students Work and Study Less Than Peers

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If you ever feel like you work harder than your friends in the Applied Economics and Management major, one study says you may be right.

Business majors both work and study less than their peers in other majors, according to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, a new book on the state of higher education. While some students in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management said they agree with the book’s findings, others rejected its message and defended Cornell’s undergraduate business program.

“The study is maybe a misrepresentation of what studying and work actually is,” said Ken Babcock ’13, vice president of student connections for the Dyson Undergraduate Council.

Authors of Academically Adrift Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that business majors had “the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills,” according to The New York Times. In addition, business undergraduates scored lower than students in every other major on the GMAT test, the entry examination for MBA programs, The Times reported.

Prof. Dale Grossman ’72, applied economics and management, said that the comparison was unfair because the work done in AEM is very different from that of other fields.

“It is easy for people to see the applications of material taught in AEM, so it may look easier, but the fact that it is straightforward does not make it easy.” Grossman said. “[Academically Adrift’s] study may be representative of business education at other institutions, but it definitely isn’t accurate here. AEM is one of the most competitive programs at Cornell and I can tell you, these kids are not lazy. This is an Ivy League institution and you cannot necessarily draw parallels.”

Prof. Christine Ranney, applied economics and management, agreed with Grossman and said that her only perception of AEM majors is that “they work incredibly hard.”

Still, Diego Guerrero ’14, an AEM major, said he agrees with the book’s findings and believes he works far less than most of his peers.

“I do think it is an easier major, but that doesn’t mean the kids aren’t equally as smart,” Guerrero said. “It is easier because the major is all about developing your own personal skills as well as working in groups. There aren’t as many problem sets, papers or assignments. The bulk of my work comes from classes outside of AEM.”

Babcock stressed that business students’ learning is different than that of other programs.

“I am not going to refute the study and say we work harder than engineers. That is just not reasonable to say,” Babcock said. “I will say there are different elements in our classes that the study does not account for. There is a lot of team building, group work and learning from other people, rather than sitting in a library, reading from a textbook and doing problem sets.”

While David Michaels ’80, a former business major at Cornell, noted that his business classes were not as competitive, he said he was well prepared for the business world after graduation.

“I didn’t work less as an AEM major,” Michaels said. “It was just that the perceived level of competition was less.” In fact, Michaels said he switched into AEM after experiencing the “remarkably cutthroat” nature of the pre-med track.

“I started out as pre-med taking courses like chemistry, biology, calculus and physics. Students were extremely competitive with one another,” Michaels said. “I decided to switch into AEM. Grades were based mainly on how well you worked in a group, so it brought down the level of competition between students. When you’re working in the business world, you’re not just competing with the other people you are going to school with. You are competing with the world at large.”

AEM emphasizes teamwork and communicating effectively in a group setting, skills that are directly applicable to the world of business, Babcock said.

“I think when you say you’re in AEM, [Cornellians] think you must be ‘living the life,’” Babcock said. “One unique thing about AEM is that because we don’t have the heavy course load of majors like engineering or architecture, you will see a lot of our students very involved on campus. I have talked with plenty of AEM alumni who said the preparation that AEM has given them has been extremely useful in the business world.”

Original Author: Alyson Warhit