With the passage of a sweeping reform proposal, the University’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business has announced its plan to begin accepting freshmen and sophomores in the fall of 2006. In a 64-14 vote, the faculty of the Business School demonstrated fairly resounding support for the new program. Proponents argue the four-year curriculum will give business students more time to pursue other academic endeavors, and the overwhelming support from the faculty seems encouraging. But however much tranquility the new program will bring to the school’s hard-working business concentrators, the unintended consequences may be graver than administrators initially anticipated.
In voicing their support for the changes, administrators like Associate Dean Gene Anderson have argued that under the new system students will be able to pursue a broader undergraduate courseload. Rather than having to complete a Bachelors in Business Administration in two strenuous years, students will now have a full four years during which they can expand their horizons with double the time for academic minors, foreign languages and study abroad programs. The Daily quoted Anderson as saying that the change “achieves a better balance between liberal arts and business.” But despite Anderson’s optimism, the status quo seems to provide a very similar, if not better, balance for prospective business students.
Currently, performance during the first two years of college is the main factor that determines whether students are rewarded with a spot in the Business School. Under the new system, prospective students will compete based on their performances during high school — a much less telling gauge of work ethic. This makes the Business School susceptible to the same admissions pitfalls that plague the University. Students applying from elite high schools will gain an unfair advantage over less privileged applicants, including underrepresented minorities, who have not had those two years in college to help level the playing field. What’s more, despite the claims that a more lengthy curriculum will expand the educational scope of business students, the proposed changes are actually likely to provide a disincentive for students looking to take nonbusiness oriented classes. The early application system would force students to make a commitment that most end up questioning at some point during their first two years of college. Rather than having the ability to get their feet wet in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, students will be locked in. A student in the new system will be less likely to follow an unexpected interest because it will require transferring out of college and starting well behind on LSA requirements.
Perhaps most importantly, it is likely that the changes could take their toll on the prestige of the Business School itself. Though structurally it will more closely resemble the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and other prestigious training grounds for the next generation’s business elite, by eliminating the two-year process of weeding out unqualified applicants through competitive prerequisite courses, a four-year curriculum may actually dilute the quality of the applicant pool. LSA will also lose a large number of highly qualified applicants who would otherwise have taken at least two years of courses within the college, some choosing not to transfer, others not getting accepted. Though the University should seek to expand study abroad programs and minors for Business School students, these improvements can be made internally, within the framework of the current two year curriculum. Instead of looking for ways to attain an extra two more years of tuition revenue and a Wharton-like appearance, the Business School should continue to focus on what it does best: turning highly qualified applicants into the business world’s future leaders — in two years.