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Nowadays, global business changes at such a stunning pace, entry-level professionals barely have time to acclimate themselves to a new company, a new competitive environment, or new operational requirements. The challenges faced by young workers include lack of experience, a complex corporate world, and business education that is too theoretical and out of sync with companies’ day-to-day needs.
But business school doesn’t have to be a part of the problem; higher-learning institutions can make their degrees more engaging and hands-on by blending the traditional economic and business dogmas with real-world, practical experiences and operational challenges, which will help to better prepare students for the working world.
I reached out to experts from across the country for their advice on this matter and came up with 10 recommendations for how to improve entrepreneurship education, from successful social entrepreneurs, endowed professors, researchers, business owners, startup founders, and researchers. Here are the easy-to-implement ways universities can put their degrees on the competitive map and empower students effectively, readying them for productive careers.
1. Focus More on Case Studies
Case studies are an effective method to spur students’ curiosity, putting them face-to-face with real-life business situations. By studying past or present corporate success stories and operational hiccups, students can dig deeper into processes and procedures that executives follow to make decisions.
And this is what a business degree should teach—the thinking pattern a manager formulates to analyze a situation, evaluate alternatives, choose a solution, and track progress over time.
Business case studies are now part of curricula at the graduate level, but it would be beneficial for both students and universities to also make it an essential component of undergraduate programs.
2. Link Curricula to Real-World Business Challenges
Universities can jumpstart their business degrees by linking their curricula to real-life business challenges. For example, when teaching social media marketing, a lecturer can point to how companies like Facebook and Twitter have become the promotional fulcrum for many businesses around the world. Similarly, a finance professor can use the 2008 mortgage crisis to instill in students notions as diverse as quantitative easing, inflation and monetary policy.
3. Create Opportunities for Students to Participate in Social Entrepreneurship Contests
There is nothing more engaging and hands-on than letting students participate in some type of entrepreneurship contests. This includes both social entrepreneurship businesses that may focus more on a social cause and tech startup ventures. No wonder shows like The Apprentice and Shark Tank have drawn viewers and critical acclaim from all over the world.
Ideally, an entrepreneurship contest can pit two or several student groups against each other—if the contest is sponsored by a single university. Alternatively, a group of institutions can get together and sponsor such contests.
4. Partner with Businesses
Prominent universities already have partnership agreements with businesses, whereby they regularly send students to work temporarily as interns at specific organizations. Entrepreneurship-in-Residence is also an innovative way to foster practical knowledge and allow young professionals to rub elbows with established and experienced entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship-in-Residence programs facilitate pairing of successful entrepreneurs and startup founders—who serve as mentors and give lectures—with campuses to offer students a real-world perspective of business and entrepreneurship. As Michael Simmons, co-founder and partner of Empact, put it: “Colleges and universities can now contribute the most by serving as the glue that connects students to the rest of the ecosystem.”
Again, this kind of partnership exists already in executive MBA programs at prominent universities, but the idea is to expand it to other, if not all, higher-learning institutions and also include social entrepreneurs as part of these programs.
5. Invite Business Executives to Deliver Lectures
Some institutions, like the Kellogg School of Management, have found new ways to make entrepreneurship teaching more engaging, vibrant, and effective. They occasionally invite business executives and ask them to teach a full course, make a presentation, or share their experiences with students.
Such initiatives have produced excellent results so far, because students can quickly learn and grasp real-world insight that tomes and tomes of business literature might not deliver so pointedly.
6. Provide Consulting Services to Small Businesses and Nonprofits
Universities can make money—and make business courses engaging—by providing consulting services to small businesses and nonprofit agencies. Conceptually, a professor would lead the consulting team of students, formulating operational priorities and guiding students throughout the consulting engagement.
This scenario is a win-win for all parties involved. Students learn practical stuff and how to cope with business tedium and nonprofit leaders; universities and faculty members make extra cash; and small businesses and nonprofits pay affordable rates for high-quality consulting services.
7. Help Students Launch Their Own Businesses
In a global economy plagued by high levels of unemployment, nothing would be better than helping students launch their own businesses. Universities can work in partnership with student-entrepreneurs—and institutions such as the Small Business Administration—to conduct market research, obtain financing, and create viable businesses.
The student-entrepreneur learns in the process, and his or her classmates also expand their practical knowledge.
8. Emphasize Technology Topics in Curricula
Technology has asserted its supremacy on today’s global economy. Higher-learning institutions can jumpstart their students’ careers by incorporating more technology topics in curricula.
The idea is not to clog academic programs with coding, programming and computer-hardware courses, but to teach strategic ways companies and entrepreneurs are using technology to innovate, communicate, advertise, and make money.
9. Foster Global Exchange Programs with Other Institutions
Global exchange programs are nothing new, but the concept has not expanded as it should to business programs. For example, the Erasmus program in Europe allows students of Eurozone countries to start a degree program in one country and finish it in another. Similar programs, such as the one spearheaded by the New York Institute of Technology, also exist in the United States and elsewhere.
The concept here is to broaden the exchange program to other institutions, inviting students with varied cultural and professional backgrounds.
10. Encourage Student-in-Residence Programs
Student-in-residence programs are comparable to internships, except that students get hands-on experience, work a specific number of hours at the host company—say, 20 hours a week—and complete coursework that ultimately is graded and counts towards the course’s final GPA.
Similar to entrepreneur-in-residence programs, student-in-residence programs allow students and experienced professionals to learn from each other while discussing and solving real-world business challenges.
To encourage entrepreneurship in students, whether it be social or for-profit, universities must offer more practical coursework, blending the theory in the traditional economic literature with the tangible needs of everyday business management. The education should be experiential, hands-on, and action-driven to give students a real-world experience. Let’s give entrepreneurship students the sink-or-swim test in the Shark Tank.
Dr. Emad Rahim is an entrepreneur-in-residence at Oklahoma State University and a visiting scholar at Rutgers University.