Why can’t undergraduate business majors get any respect? According to an article by David Glenn in the New York Times:

The family of majors under the business umbrella — including finance, accounting, marketing, management and “general business” — accounts for just over 20 percent, or more than 325,000, of all bachelor’s degrees awarded annually in the United States, making it the most popular field of study.

Brand-name programs — the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, and a few dozen others — are full of students pulling 70-hour weeks, if only to impress the elite finance and consulting firms they aspire to join. But get much below BusinessWeek’s top 50, and you’ll hear pervasive anxiety about student apathy, especially in “soft” fields like management and marketing, which account for the majority of business majors.

As one business professor explains, he doesn’t give his students as many exams as he used to, because he doesn’t think they’d pass them. Many students “don’t read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying.”

Is he right? Why do people think business majors are so dumb? And so lazy?

Part of this may be because, at least statistically, they sort of are. Undergraduate business programs don’t have an image problem; evidence indicates that they have a substance problem.

Business majors do less outside work for class than any other students. They study fewer than 11 hours a week studying. According to the recently published study of campus learning, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, undergraduate business students also retain less information than other majors. They just don’t learn very much in college.

According to the article, this might have something to do with the way colleges teach business courses. There are many group projects, and not too many papers or reading assignments. That may seem legitimate for people preparing for careers in offices, but it’s not really a good way to learn information.

The thing is that this particular criticism isn’t just for business majors. They aren’t the only college students who have an image problem; so do elementary education majors, and anyone else with an overtly vocational academic major.

Maybe specific job preparation isn’t a good reason to go to college. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer