The diversity of student interests

As a practical matter, probably the most that can be expected is that the schools would tend to move up all along the line; the top-level schools would go still higher; those in the middle tier of academic quality would edge up more closely to the top schools; those in the lower tier would move into what is now the middle category; while at the bottom, a sharper line would be drawn between the work of the lowest-level fouryear institutions and the work of high schools, evening schools, and the like. The great majority of students would still find programs of study suitable to their abilities, though admittedly some of the least academically gifted would be excluded from regular collegiate business programs. The issue, then, is whether the interests of these latter students should be allowed to outweigh the needs of those who are not now being pushed to the limits of their abilities.

The press of enrollments and the diversity of student interests with which business schools must cope pose issues more akin to those faced by higher education as a whole than by particular branches of professional education, and in neither case is any simple solution likely. The most apparent danger is that in striving to meet the needs of the many, the needs of the better students will tend to be neglected. But there is the further question whether programs pitched to the abilities and interests of the less qualified students will even bring out their best efforts or serve their special interests. There is some tendency in the academic world to write off large groups of students, whether in engineering, liberal arts, or business, as forever childish, incapable, and unimaginative. "Average" and "below average" students need to be treated like adults quite as much as their more favored peers.

The problem of motivating such students is admittedly complex but, speaking of college and university work only, should the actual subject matter they study be materially different from what is given superior students? The pace perhaps should be slower and the level of difficulty of the work reduced for such students, but it is doubtful whether the essential content of the programs should be made very different. This raises questions about the motivations and interests of business students and about the content of the business curriculum which are discussed at some length later. However these issues are resolved, it must be agreed that while business schools bear a heavy responsibility for providing more equal economic opportunity, they also carry an obligation to challenge all students at different levels of ability to their fullest capacities; to do otherwise would be a move away from, rather than toward, the kind of diversity which recognizes variations in student abilities and would in fact tend to establish a uniformity of mediocrity.

As enrollment pressures mount, the difficulties in giving full scope to students of varying academic promise will rise commensurately, making the need for safeguarding measures all the more necessary. The undergraduate business schools would accordingly concentrate on underlying principles and basic tools needed by students in their later work, with only limited attention either to first-job skills or to the more advanced aspects of business preparation. This pattern would not only accord with developments which have already occurred in such other fields as engineering, law, and medicine, but it would be a logical outcome of long term trends in business education as well. In fact, as noted in the preceding chapter, some important beginnings among business schools have already occurred along these lines, and further developments may well be in the making which will put the whole matter of student needs and preferences in a substantially different light.

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