More thoughts on business education




I was thinking the other day about how many post-secondary programs in Business faculties are laid out as easily understood pathways to particular jobs (Management, HR, Finance, Accounting, Supply Chain, etc.). Degrees that have the same name as the future job. Which got me thinking about how business used to be more of an apprenticeship program, and I was considering what separates it from an apprenticeship program now.

I’ll use SFU’s Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting as an example. This is because it’s well regarded, was just updated last year, and includes all of the required courses to begin the CPA process.

If you want to become a CPA and are at SFU’s BBA your program will look something like (I’m not an SFU academic advisor so it’s probably off by a few courses) this:

  • 100/200 Humanities (6)
  • 100/200 Science (6)
  • 100/200 Social Science (6)
  • BUS 100 – Professional Development – Launch (1)
  • ECON 103 – Principles of Microeconomics (4)
  • ECON 105 – Principles of Macroeconomics (4)
  • ENGL 199W – Writing to Persuade (3)
  • MATH 157 – Calculus I for the Social Sciences (3)
  • 100/200 electives (15)
  • BUS 201 – Introduction to Business (3)
  • BUS 217W – Critical Thinking in Business (3)
  • BUS 232 – Business Statistics (3)
  • BUS 237 – Introduction to Business Technology Management (3)
  • BUS 251 – Financial Accounting I (3)
  • BUS 254 – Managerial Accounting I (3)
  • BUS 272 – Behaviour in Organizations (3)
  • ECON 201 – Microeconomic Theory I: Competitive Behavior (4)
  • BUS 300 – Professional Development – Planning (1)
  • BUS 303 – Business, Society and Ethics (3)
  • BUS 312 – Introduction to Finance (3)
  • BUS 320 – Financial Accounting: Assets (3)
  • BUS 321 – Financial Accounting: Equities (3)
  • BUS 322 – Intermediate Managerial Accounting (3)
  • BUS 343 – Introduction to Marketing (3)
  • BUS 360W – Business Communication (4)
  • BUS 374 – Organization Theory (3)
  • BUS 393 – Commercial Law (3)
  • BUS 410 – Financial Institutions (3)
  • BUS 420 – Advanced Accounting (3)
  • BUS 421 – Accounting Theory (3)
  • BUS 424 – Advanced Managerial Accounting (3)
  • BUS 426 – Auditing and Assurance: Concepts and Methods (3)
  • BUS 478 – Strategy (3)
  • BUS 496 – Professional Development – Summit (1)

For those keeping track at home that’s 48 credits of upper level business classes, 25 of second year business, and 9 of first year business, coming in at 82 credits of business classes. For non business you get 23 credits of breadth (including your math). Then you get 15 lower level credits of whatever you would like outside of business to round out your program.

Comparing that to SFU’s Bachelor of Arts in English requires 32 credits of upper level English, 18 of lower level English, 22 of lower level arts, and 18 credits of breadth. Then you get 30 credits of whatever you would like to round out the program

BBA AccountingBA English
Lower Faculty/Dicipline34 (12 discipline)40 (18 discipline)
Lower Breadth2318
Lower Electives1517
Upper Faculty/Dicipline48 (27 discipline)32 (all discipline)
Upper Electives013

That’s a rough approximate, but what really stands out to me is that after the mid point in the BBA Accounting all classes are essentially Business classes. For the Arts student they get to take some upper level classes outside of their field (though most will use that for a minor and will stay in the Humanities/Social Science/Fine & Performing Arts grouping). The accounting student has more classes that are business but not accounting than the English student has arts but not English.

Which brings me back to apprenticeship. I like using Electrician as a strong equivalent to bachelors programs, it’s a four year program with similar entry requirements to many bachelors degrees. It also requires 1200 classroom hours. What does that look like in credit equivalents? Well most classes are 3 credits for 3 hours a week over 12 weeks. Which means you can easily work out that the electrician apprentice completes about 100 credits of discipline courses, which is actually more than either English or Accounting. Now, to be fair, most programs count the classroom credit hours for the full apprenticeship program at 80, so let’s use that.

  • Accounting 82 credits core plus 38 breadth/elective (often has 1-1.5 years of optional WIL)
  • English 72 credits core plus 48 breadth/elective (Sometimes has 1-1.5 years of optional WIL)
  • Electrician 80 credits core, no breadth/elective (Has 3 years of mandatory WIL)

The reason I’m making these comparisons isn’t to say one of these three is better than the others. It’s to say that if we want programs like Accounting to be a bachelor’s program, the reason for that is the breath and elective courses, not the course courses.

If you used the electrician model of apprenticeship for accounting where over the course of four years they did 80 credits of business and accounting courses in addition to 6,000 hours of work-integrated learning then I guarantee you that they would be stronger at the technical work of accounting than 80% of accounting graduates today. But we didn’t do that, and since we don’t see a huge cry by the accounting industry to move toward the apprenticeship model, so that tells me that those other classes matter as much if not more than the core course.

Many people today are questioning whether to cut back on the elective or breadth courses in order to shorten the length of a bachelors degree. If you were to do that to accounting you would remove the reason that it is a bachelors degree as opposed to an apprenticeship.

To try to close off this one, my thoughts on it are that we either believe that elective and breadth courses are an important part of the bachelors program, or it’s time to move the NOC targeted degrees into apprenticeships. Both of these options are good, both have strengths and weaknesses, but one requires a full re-creation of the Canadian post-secondary system while the other just requires better communication about the value of a degree.


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