University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Higher Education for Business is NOT Broken

Graduation cap

April 8, 2020 | By Mark Zweig

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It’s popular these days to bash higher education. All you hear about is the high cost of it and the excessive debt that students take on to get “useless” degrees. And then there is plenty of criticism for how we teach it. Some say the system is completely broken.

I say the system is not broken. Let’s dispel some of the misconceptions that are being propagated:

“You don’t need a college education to succeed.”

While this may be true to a certain extent because not everyone is cut out to make it through four years of college, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be much more likely to succeed with a college degree than without one. For example, we have a very high placement rate for our new graduates from the Sam M. Walton College of Business — somewhere around 90 percent.

Their starting salaries (depending on discipline, grade, and many other factors) typically average around $60,000 and some are as high as $80,000 or more. Try doing that with a high school diploma only four years after graduation. It’s rare.

And this pay differential between those with degrees and those without will stick with them for the rest of their working lives. The payback on a four-year business degree is phenomenal.

“College students are all lazy and entitled.”

This, too, isn’t true. Each generation likes to bash those coming up behind them. It has been happening for thousands of years. And while it’s true that there may be some generational differences between college students and us baby boomers, for example, you can find lazy and entitled people in any generation.

I have had some incredibly hard-working and motivated students over the years and still do. This semester, for example, one of my students, Rynn NeSmith, is taking 21 hours of class while simultaneously working at a full-time job. Another of my students, Ontario West, goes to school full time and also works the night shift at a 24-hour convenience store.

Another student, Kera Noblin, is a working mother who drove to and from where she lives in Oklahoma after working a full-time day job to take classes.

These people are just a few of the many examples of the hard-working, not entitled students we have right now. I’m sure I along with my colleagues could come up with hundreds more.

“Having PowerPoint-driven lectures with a textbook is an ineffective way to teach.”

While I no longer use a textbook in my classes and instead assign a variety of readings out of class, there are plenty of subjects that can and should be taught with a good textbook and lectures. A lot of information can go into a well-researched text. Most have a variety of exercises for readers to go through.

That text may be the only book the student reads cover-to-cover all year. Certain business disciplines are best taught using a good book with corresponding lectures that stimulate thinking and discussion.

A good teacher can make the material interesting and relevant by punctuating the lecture points with anecdotes and stories that link the material to the student’s prior learning and life experiences so far. A class based around a text with lectures doesn’t have to be an exercise in rote memorization and fact regurgitation at all.

“College students don’t get enough real-world exposure.”

This is certainly not the case today, at least not here at the Walton College.

We have so many ways our students get real world exposure — from internships with large companies, to special internships with start-up companies, to guest lectures with experienced business people, bankers and more, to mentoring sessions with seasoned executives, to portfolio management classes where real investment decisions are made with real money, to managing ongoing student business enterprises that make and sell products, to structured trips to foreign countries to see how things are done there — and so much more.

Our students — at least those who want it — get “real world exposure” at every turn, every day.

“College professors are all out of touch with what is going on in the real world.”

This just isn’t true. Besides the fact that many of our professors have significant professional work experience prior to or concurrent with their teaching responsibilities, everyone here that I know is dedicated to continuous learning.

Most read, go to conferences, listen to podcasts, go through a wide variety of continuing education programs here at the University of Arkansas and elsewhere, do research projects with industry, do consulting work for specific companies, and much, much more.

Anyone who teaches business knows that you cannot disconnect from the world around us (even if we wanted to) as our students would eat us alive!

“College professors are unmotivated and don’t care about students because of publish or perish academic institutional cultures.”

Again — not the case. Teaching and providing a learning experience that transforms the lives of our students is front and center in our mission.

From my vantage point, if anything takes a back seat, it is the research that is so critical to our status and rankings that in turn impacts our enrollment, student diversity and quality and economic value of the degrees we confer. We really do try to put students first every day in every aspect of what we do.

“Academic research is useless.”

Not true — certainly not at the Walton College. While academic freedom does allow for some wide-ranging hypotheses to be tested, everything has some practical application in the business world for those who are open enough to learn from it. The research is critical to pushing the boundaries of our knowledge on so many complex and inter-related topics.

I will admit that I bristle when I hear some of this stuff. I am very proud to be a minor contributor working in a great academic department, inside an amazing college, within a state university, here in what some people call “flyover country.”

We are transforming lives. And we’re getting better and better at doing it every day.

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Mark ZweigMark Zweig – a leading expert in management and business for the architecture, engineering, planning, and environmental industry – is president of Mark Zweig, Inc., which has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies; chairman and founder of Zweig Group – named to the Inc. list three times – and entrepreneur-in-residence teaching entrepreneurship at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.