Despite the Hype, Few Study Entrepreneurship

With all of the media discussion of business plan competitions, school rankings and foundation and government initiatives to promote teaching entrepreneurship, you might think that it’s a hot course of study on college campuses. But less than two percent of accredited business school faculty members teach entrepreneurship and small business, and less than one percent of college freshmen intend to major in it, data from two major surveys reveals.

While a higher fraction of college students is likely have some exposure to entrepreneurship classes, my best guess would be that even that share is in the single digits. But let me stick to the hard numbers.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, which surveys incoming college freshmen annually, only 0.7 percent of the 193,000 students at 283 U.S. colleges and universities who responded to the 2012 survey, said that they intend to major in entrepreneurship. To give you a sense of how large this fraction is, consider these numbers: 2.3 percent of incoming college students plan to study accounting; 2.6 percent intend to major in elementary education; 6.9 percent aim to major in biology; 2.7 percent plan to study mechanical engineering; and 1.0 percent intend to major in economics.

Of course, the fraction of students planning to study entrepreneurship isn’t the same everywhere; the intended major is more common at some types of academic institutions than others. The major is most popular at historically Black colleges and universities, where 1.6 percent of incoming freshmen planned to major in it in 2012. In fact, at private Black colleges the fraction reached 2 percent of entering students, the HERI survey revealed.

The numbers were considerably lower at other types of academic institutions. The HERI survey revealed that 0.8 percent of freshmen at nonsectarian colleges, and 0.6 at Catholic institutions planned to major in the subject. But only 0.5 percent of students at non-Catholic religious institutions planned to study the topic.
At universities, the numbers were higher than at four-year colleges. The HERI survey shows that 1.2 percent of students at private universities, but only 0.7 percent of students at public universities, intended to major in the subject.

The vast majority of intended entrepreneurship majors are male. The HERI survey shows that 1.1 percent of male students plan to major in entrepreneurship versus only 0.3 percent of female ones.

At most colleges and universities, entrepreneurship classes and majors are taught by business school faculty, but only a minority of accredited business schools worldwide offer degrees in the subject. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) – the largest association of business faculty and administrators – 21 percent of AACSB-accredited institutions worldwide offer at least one undergraduate program in entrepreneurship or small business and 10 percent provide at least one program at the MBA level. Only 6 percent of schools offer a specialty master’s degree in the subject.

Only a tiny slice of full-time business school faculty members falls in the entrepreneurship discipline – 2 percent of the total full-time faculty pool at AACSB-accredited institutions. That number is growing slowly, with the AACSB reporting its accredited institutions planned to increase the number of “full-time doctoral positions” in the discipline by 4 percent in the most recent year its member institutions were surveyed.

For all the media attention entrepreneurship education on college campuses receives, it remains a niche course of study.

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Scott Shane Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of nine books, including Fool's Gold: The Truth Behind Angel Investing in America ; Illusions of Entrepreneurship: and The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By.

5 Reactions
  1. Well Entrepreneurship is a interesting matter to study & progress with it. But i believe the time has come when most of us know the importance of this study. Since every opportunity is given nowadays to get successful not just as an entrepreneur but as a natural being too.

  2. I think it is because of two things: few want to study entrepreneurship as a degree while others who are led to entrepreneurship are fueled by passion for another subject before they become entrepreneurs. Some of the most successful business people are not business graduates after all.

  3. Yes, but does the fact that colleges and universities offer the courses lead to more entrepreneurial activity?

    And how many minor in the field? I notice that a relatively high percentage, 2.4, declared their intended career occupation as Business Owner/Entrepreneur.

    College programs help spark entrepreneurship interest in grade schools and high schools that may increase those numbers. We may not have a market for degrees in entrepreneurship, but we do need the interest, research and resources that educational institutions and media hype stimulate.

  4. I think the major problem with this study is that it focuses on a major in entrepreneurship. I teach at Ohio State, one of the largest schools in the country, and we do not have a major in entrepreneurship. But, we have lots of students taking one or two classes, and some go on to take the minor. We think there are many more who don’t take the classes, but are working on startups. The question is really how to reach those students and get them to see the value of taking a class or two to increase their odds of success.

    Also, Kauffman published a report in 2012 noting the large and growing number of schools and courses in entrepreneurship. This would indicate that, while still relatively small in comparison to other business courses, entrepreneurship is indeed a fast growing field of study.

    Finally, in what I have seen, there is a lot of growth in smaller schools like community colleges and speciality schools. I teach at Columbus College of Art and Design and we are adding classes and students to the “business classes” there. Some, like mine, focus on starting up, even though some students dislike the term entrepreneurship.

    So, I feel like interest is way up and growing, but maybe not represented in a study like this.