David Ellis: A Band-Aid to the business school’s deep cuts

At first glance, the GW School of Business’ new requirement that most undergraduates minor in another academic field seems like a good deal.

Since four out of five employers say they want new hires to have a strong liberal arts background, according to a survey last year from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, leaders in the business school say this change will give students more flexibility and improve graduates’ credentials.

But when you actually sit down and think about it, you realize that this just creates new restrictions under the guise of improving career prospects. This supposedly forward-thinking move – approved by faculty last month – is a mirage of progress.

By requiring students to minor, they have to pile on credits that they could find useless. The role of college is to stimulate intellectual curiosity among students’ areas of interest, not to mandate students to take multiple classes they only want to briefly explore.

Let’s say a student thinks they want to minor in philosophy, but they realize after taking two classes they like history more. Under the new plan, that student would be hard-pressed to pursue their true interest because they are two classes deep in a minor they can’t easily leave. If they do change minors, they might struggle to graduate on time. That’s not flexibility.

From “logic” to “information systems,” I’ve been able to explore a variety of classes through two and a half years in the business school without a minor.

I was only able to do this because I wasn’t pigeonholed into a required minor outside the school from my freshman year until graduation day. I had the freedom and flexibility of a semester’s worth of unrestricted and upper-level electives. I could take classes, realize I didn’t like them, and try others the next semester, instead of worrying about having enough time to successfully complete a major and a minor.

For incoming students, that’s all about to change.

The business school did make some smart moves. For instance, the college decreased the number of business-focused requirements to make room for the credits students will earn while pursuing a minor. But we shouldn’t outsource the development of business students’ critical thinking skills to the Elliott School of International Affairs or the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

That’s a task that the business school should be able to accomplish internally by hiring its own army of interdisciplinary-focused professors and developing an innovative curriculum. Student satisfaction in the business school might be low – but that won’t change if students feel coerced into taking on a minor outside the school. It’ll only change if the school itself works to improve.

Plus, this model will suck up resources for the University as a whole. For instance, anthropology professors and students saw overcrowding because Elliott School students flooded into the Columbian College classes due to overlapping credits. This will likely be the case with business students as well.

A better model for GW should be to find a way where all business students get a breadth of experience through diverse liberal arts requirements, while leaving the credits open for students to minor – if they choose. That’s how you improve the value of a degree and increase student satisfaction.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek’s annual rankings, the business school is ranked No. 71 in the country – a figure that has gone down in recent years primarily due to consistently decreasing student happiness. Students want to be pushed outside their academic boundaries – but not forced into a rigid curriculum.

Changes to the business school curriculum should be about a holistic education – not about liberal arts or critical thinking buzzwords. The school needs to make itself a place where students genuinely want to spend four years.

David Ellis is a junior majoring in finance.

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