Emory Goizueta Business School
Undergaduate BBA
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BBa Program Dean’s Blog

BBA Blog

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Not Either Or: What is the true value of an undergraduate business education?

Welcome to my blog!

I view this as a vehicle for engaging in a dialogue about academics, students, and the university. I hope we can talk about the things that matter most to me and to you in this arena. Undergraduate education in general, and business education in particular, provide an almost unlimited source of topics worthy of exploration. I am anxious to get started and I encourage you to join the conversation.

I thought we would start at the beginning by delving into the topic of undergraduate business education and its place in a research-based liberal arts university. The question typically asked is whether it is more valuable to obtain a broad based liberal arts education or to gain the practical knowledge offered through a business curriculum. Arguments in favor of liberal arts celebrate the degree as an essential means of understanding the human condition and the world so that we may fully immerse ourselves in it. Those who advocate for an undergraduate business degree often answer with three letters: J-O-B, and posit that the only likely path to satisfactory and reasonably compensated employment for college graduates is through business or a business-related field.

My reply to this controversy is that we are asking the wrong question. The query as posed sets up a false dichotomy between liberal arts and business and erroneously negates the practical relevance of the former and the educational content of the latter. It is not an either or proposition.

An undergraduate liberal arts education gives you the opportunity to obtain knowledge in the classroom while simultaneously engaging in the world around you. You are pushed to ask the big, burning questions, and to begin to answer them, informed by the ever-present realization that the volume of things you don’t know or understand will always be much greater than what you do. In the liberal arts, you learn to apply a variety of canons, perspectives and approaches within a larger context but more importantly, you learn humility, empathy and the importance of seeking out diverse experiences and views. These capacities are essential for any thinking human being and are sought, implicitly or explicitly, by every organization willing to exchange capital (a paycheck) for labor (your time and skills.)

An undergraduate business education at any quality research-based university embraces the exact same philosophy. Our faculty members build upon the scholars who came before them, using the foundations of mathematics, psychology, sociology, computer science, economics and anthropology, to make sense of the world. They do so in an applied context in accounting, finance, marketing, strategy, decision analysis, and organizational management, not just to inform the practice of business but also to understand what is happening in our everyday world of commerce, and why.

What you therefore learn in business school classrooms is an approach and methodology that teaches you to understand problems, to utilize a variety of theories and data to analyze them, and then to make actionable recommendations, informed by the context in which the issues occur. I would like to think of this as goal-oriented education, grounded in the liberal arts. The goal we have in mind is not, as some will assume, making more money. While profits are clearly a necessary outcome of any ongoing business entity, money serves as a vehicle for sustaining the organization, not as an end unto itself.

It is far beyond the scope of this small blog to argue on behalf of the value of capitalism in society. What I would like to propose is simply the value of undergraduate business education, as we see it, here in the BBA Program at the Goizueta Business School. Our mission is to help our students grow, intellectually, personally and professionally so that they feel enabled, empowered and compelled to make significant positive contributions to the organizations they serve and to society as a whole. I think we are pretty great at doing this, and I believe whole-heartedly that it is a noble aspiration, one worthy of the most august liberal arts institution.

I’d love to know what you think. Please click on the title of the blog above to enable the comments link to submit your thoughts.

Andrea S Hershatter
Associate Dean, BBA Program Director