Mendoza Undergrad Dean Sees Trends, Misconceptions in Biz Ed

In 2017, Poets&Quants named Mendoza 4th on its list of Best Undergraduate Business Programs. Photo courtesy of the Mendoza College of Business

What are some of the other trends you’re seeing in undergraduate business education right now?

We continue to see the evolution of transformational technologies. Its this exponential evolution that continues to take place that drives a lot of business model changes. But the changes are happening constantly and rapidly. What that’s typically led to is majors and course offerings that are happening very quickly in order to adjust and keep pace. For instance, we’ve had a proliferation of data analytics and business analytics-type programs in the business school and all the other colleges as well. Now in its second year, the new business analytics major at Mendoza is one of the most popular in the College of Business. It’s growing in leaps and bounds because of all the hype that’s out there. That’s a big, growing boom.

The other thing is the change in career placements; specifically the impact of recruiters and their accelerated timelines. It’s creating all kind of internship pressure on the students. I’m not sure it’s a healthy pressure if all the focus is about getting a job and students forget the real reason they’re at the university. If your primary purpose is getting a job, you’re missing out on the big picture of everything you can get out of the university and the College of Business such as social skills, communication skills, leadership skills, liberal studies, and becoming a critical thinker.

This is a rapidly evolving dynamic and it’s having a cause-and-effect outcome on the university with us needing to accelerate courses and adjust the curriculum. I’ve even seen it impact study abroad. Historically, we’re running somewhere in the average of 650 business sophomores of which I would see 400-plus students applying for multiple programs for junior year. In the last couple years, there were barely above 300 students applying. Losing 100, that’s a 25% decrease in the number of students applying. That’s a significant drop off. It only represents about 15% of the total population in that year group, but I still think it’s noteworthy.

It’s also noteworthy that we noticed this happening particularly among finance majors and around the time recruiters started going after students in their junior year. At least a third of my finance majors — our largest major — were opting not to study abroad their junior year which is when most students do it. These are anecdotal numbers, but in general 30% fewer finance majors were applying because they were worried about missing opportunities or missing the first ‘Super Day’ for recruiting.

What’s a school to do when recruiters are putting on such pressure?

It’s a delicate tightrope. We don’t want to lose those employer relationships and we understand they’re trying to identify the best students and the best talent. I just don’t see — from my perspective — that it needs to be that early. They’re now starting to recruit sophomores. What has changed in their model? Why do they feel it has to be accelerated to this point?

For students who get selected early on, they usually like it and they feel very satisfied. As for the person who doesn’t, they feel, ‘I have no chance anymore,’ and they get depressed. It puts stress and pressure on them. We tell students all the time that there’s a process to go through. The offers are coming throughout your four years so don’t over-stress on the issue. What happened to exploration and discernment and making sure you’re comfortable with the path you’re taking?

Given these and other trends, what advice do you for high school students who may be considering coming to Mendoza?

My advice would be start that discernment process early while in high school. Read The Wall Street Journal and other business periodicals to gain an appreciation for what might interest you. If you start reading articles about financial management and get bored, why would you want do this? If you think you’re interested in business, look for opportunities to take business courses in high school, such as economics, to see if you’d enjoy it.

The last thing I’d say is don’t fall subject to parental pressure or peer pressure to default to finance. Be open to other majors. Don’t get me wrong, I myself am a finance guy but I know me versus a lot of our students. Be open and discerning.

Any advice for parents?

If students find their passions, they’re going to find jobs! We know that you are a big influence on what your students will major in. I have parents in my office who say their son or daughter may want to be a particular major, but they’re not going to allow them. They think being a business major is the only way they’ll get a job and I say that’s not true. I’d tell them to be encouraging of their students to pursue areas that interest them and don’t force them down the business path. Let them figure out if it’s what they want. Let them find themselves.

Do you think there are any misconceptions about studying business at Notre Dame?

It’s what we just talked about. This idea that you have to study business to get a job. I’m not selling us out, but people think it’s business or bust. I’d like to dispel that. You don’t have to be all business. I often bring in CEOs for a speaker series and the vast majority were not necessarily business. The point being that typically the misperception is it’s business or bust. I’d throw that out.

How have students changed during your time in business education?

You see more students today — and in the last few years — interested in social responsibility and corporate responsibility. As for this generation, they think about these things and it concerns them. Although, it’s like a barbell. You still have those who primarily want to make money and obtain wealth.

DON’T MISS: A Q&A WITH THE HEAD OF ENROLLMENT AT NOTRE DAME or 4 KEY TRENDS HAPPENING NOW IN BIZ ED