Cecil Bohanon reviews the themes of business education from 1900 to 1930 to see which issues were resolved at this time in history. The research evaluated curriculum content, professional nature of business and business schools, social responsibility of corporate managers, and the desire to integrate business curriculum. These entry-level business school concepts continue today in a more complex form.
The very first business and commerce colleges started in the 19th century lead by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1883. Business communities, who wanted their sons to learn about business with a liberal education, started the very first colleges. To the business community it was a way of formalizing a period of apprenticeship. At this time in history, many families ran a business to maintain their needs and it was expected their sons would start their own or take over the family business.
Either most of the bright high school students went directly into business or they went to college to learn specific skills. These students did not have much desire to graduate with a degree and simply took the classes that furthered their business interests. College administrators felt that they could improve retention by offering degrees in business. They implemented programs that moved from trade school to formal education.
It took a couple of decades before professors began to feel as though business was a worthwhile subject for study. At the time, a liberal education was seen as the ideal standard of education. The very first business oriented curriculum included economics and sociology as part of their offerings. Economics provided the financial training and sociology offered the human elements training. Commerce was seen as the key course set that moved trade schools to business schools.
Social responsibility eventually made its way into the overall process of business education. Ethics were present before the 1930’s but focused on social responsibility to shareholders. The damaging aspect of not following the law could result in punitive economic actions. Ethics was based in how to make the most money in one’s career regardless of the wider social obligations.
Once colleges were established, the concept of curriculum integration became more important. Students could receive an excellent education in class silos but did not have proper frameworks for integrating these concepts into a more cohesive framework. As the concept of integrate developed so did the practices of relating classes to each other. Courses that are more general were built on the fundaments of economics, accounting and statistics.
Business colleges have come a long way. In today’s world, a higher level of fundamental, business and liberal education has become common place. Social responsibility has moved beyond making only money to include one’s responsibilities to society. Courses are more technical and include other elements in response to the changing complexity of the business environment. The report does not indicate this concept, but it would seem that the next development of business colleges beyond technological trajectories will be the creation of integrated frameworks for understanding complex environmental factors as well as creative/innovation development methodologies.
Bohanon, C. (2008). Persistent Themes in College of Business. Journal of Education for Business, 83 (4).