Half a Degree

Two years ago the LBS faculty was debating changes to the business core curriculum.  This is the set of courses all students take as part of their BSBA degree.  The curriculum hadn’t been revised in years and while most people agreed the core had to be changed, there were differences of opinion among the faculty about how to move forward. One morning I was in the BEH courtyard discussing this issue with Professor Wimmer when he said: “I tell undergraduate students that if they can do physics and write well that they will do fine.”  I share his view.

No I don’t want you to change your major.  This blog post has nothing to do with your major.  Being a good economist, Professor Wimmer was emphasizing the importance of general skills.   As our world has become more complex, these skills have become more important.  Those math geeks you mocked in high school are taking over the universe, especially Wall Street and Madison Avenue. Do you want to earn your fortune there someday? And it is inspiration creatively presented and communicated that goes viral on YouTube.  Fame rarely comes to the inarticulate.

 Mastering these skills isn’t just important for those seeking fame and fortune. Employers never tell me that the only thing that stands between students and a good job is an internet gaming course or expert knowledge of the economics of sports and entertainment.  They tell me that ineffective job candidates don’t write well, can’t think on their feet, aren’t data driven decision-makers, don’t work well in teams, or present themselves poorly.  And, while it is common for students to think of themselves as “analytic” or “people-oriented,”  the skill sets associated with these descriptions aren’t substitutes for each other.  An “analytic-type” who cannot communicate their brilliant solutions is just as unemployable as a “people person” who expertly communicates half-baked ideas.  Conversely, if you can identify new opportunities, use data to creatively solve problems, work well in team settings and communicate your ideas effectively to others (preferably in multiple languages), you are golden in any profession:  $$$$$.

 This is why LBS won’t allow you to advance into business courses without a record of success in lower division courses: If you cannot prove to us that you have the math, statistics, communication and critical thinking skills to do well in the general education curriculum, there really is no point in us trying to teach you specific business knowledge.   

 So why am I telling you this now?  Registration for spring semester classes begins today.  Half the credits you earn at UNLV will come from outside LBS. Work with your advisor to take serious stock of your strengths and weaknesses.  Choose general education courses that will help you improve these skills.  There is no such thing as too much math or statistics.  Embrace courses that give you the opportunity to write and present your ideas to others.  While you are at it, take some courses that are very different from your major.  Exposure to different perspectives will help you gain perspective and develop your innovative potential. If it seems like a lot of work, it is.  The best students will take up this challenge. I have written this before: Whether you like it or not, you are in a competition to realize your dreams.  Don’t enter it with only half a degree.

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3 thoughts on “Half a Degree

  1. I particularly agree with the inference that multiple languages are necessary, especially in the business world. You can make an argument that locally you can get by with only English, but it’s always a bonus to have extra language skills with anything on the international level, if you plan to sell or market on the internet then even from your desk at home you touched an international market.

    Saying you can’t ever have enough Math is also true, I feel at times I’ve had my fill, but the more Math i do, the better I understand and think cognitively in the communication oriented areas. I may be a glutton for punishment but from here on out I plan to always have some sort of technical class on my schedule, even if it is the “people side” that comes to me easiest.

  2. I graduated in 1962 at OSU from the business school. We were under the quarter system, which I still prefer, and besides our core courses we could take many hours outside the business department. I usually took 19-21 hours per quarter and ended up with many hours in philosophy, art and history. I am grateful that I had this chance to expand my knowledge. I applaud all your ideas that I am reading on this blog. Kudos to you…

  3. A common theme emerges whenever I discuss general education with my peers at UNLV. They want to pursue classes that interest them, outside their major. However, they are deterred by the idea that those credits will not be applicable to their degrees.

    I started out as a fine arts major followed for a semester of the pursuit of a degree in the sciences. I took classes that greatly expanded my knowledge in areas I otherwise would never have pursued. Growth would not have occurred if I had begun with a laser-like focus on Accounting.

    I am hopeful that future and ongoing structural changes at UNLV will lead graduates to their fullest potential.

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