Business careers involve many elements which lie outside the purview of higher education. The principal contribution which business schools can make is to help students apply general knowledge and special abilities to significant business problems. A variety of educational backgrounds is needed at all levels of company organizations but especially at upper management levels. Colleges and universities should concentrate on strengthening the students' powers of imaginative thinking. Business schools should concentrate on helping students apply background knowledge and general-purpose tools to significant business problems.
The problems encountered in running a business organization define the special province of business education while the staffing needs of these organizations determine how graduates of business schools will be employed. Any appraisal of academic work in this area must therefore consider the question of employer requirements for qualified personnel. In turning to the "market" for guidance, however, the business schools confront a welter of opinion.
Even with respect to the corporate sector, which includes the most influential companies, extreme care has to be exercised in interpreting employer thinking and practice because of the diversity of their needs, experience, and backgrounds. Few employers and company officers have had the opportunity to give these matters much systematic thought and quite naturally they are inclined to approach such questions in rather personal terms. It is therefore important to relate the discussion of employer viewpoints and experience to the particular industries or groups involved and wherever possible to check their opinions against observed behavior. The various soundings among employers which are attempted in this and the next chapter should be thought of, not as providing any precise guideposts, but as suggesting some general approaches to the field of business education.
In the face of the many diverse purposes which they might serve, a number of business schools have endeavored to center their programs around upper-staff and line positions in industry. Even under the most favorable circumstances there is real question how far students can go in this direction; no ready-made formula exists whereby a school's program can be given a top-management emphasis and thereby achieve solid content. Nevertheless, if this conception of business education were really held to, there is little doubt but what the work in this area would be greatly clarified--study designed to prepare for less complex and less important jobs would be left to other institutions, to on-the-job training, or to the individual studying on his own. The basic difficulty is that, if taken at all seriously, this conception of academic preparation for business would close out most programs now in existence, since there obviously are not enough openings in upper management to satisfy more than a minute fraction of the thousands of students enrolled in these courses. As a consequence, it leads to confusion and even misrepresentation for the great majority of business schools to assert, or imply, that they are preparing students for jobs at this level of responsibility. This applies with particular force to undergraduate business schools, but it bears on many offering graduate work as well.