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viewpoint

Mendoza enrollment cap consequences

| Friday, April 25, 2014

In late February, the University announced that beginning with the class of 2018, enrollment in the Mendoza College of Business would be capped at 550 students per class. This is not all that surprising. Mendoza already does not accept sophomore transfer students, and Wharton School (UPenn), Ross (Michigan), and Kelley (Indiana University) already have various caps or required applications for prospective students. The business school is busting at the seams, and the Administration is acting accordingly.

One thing the Administration has unsurprisingly glossed over ⎯ or only vaguely alluded to ⎯ in publicizing the move is the impact it stands to have on the College of Arts & Letters. While touting the advantages of an enrollment cap ⎯ maintaining smaller class sizes and keeping business classes open to non-business majors ⎯ the more quietly stated motive almost certainly derives from the slow-drip of Arts & Letters students into Mendoza. Paraphrasing Dean of First Year of Studies Hugh Page, The Observer wrote “the admissions office and the First Year of Studies are working to provide more information to high school students and freshmen on the different paths to a career in business besides a business major.”

Major enrollment statistics are available online through the Office of Institutional Research to anybody with a Notre Dame netID. As spreadsheets go, they’re something to see. While the total number of Notre Dame undergraduates has essentially held constant over the past 10 years, the number of undergraduates enrolled in Arts & Letters has plummeted. Political science, once the most popular undergraduate major with 684 enrollees, has lost 38 percent of its students since the spring of 2004. Likewise, the history department has dropped from 324 to 196 undergraduate majors, and English has fallen from 424 to 239. Over the same period, the number of finance majors has climbed from 368 to 482 (25 percent). It is now the most popular major at Notre Dame.

With the recession and increasing market demand for STEM majors, the loss is not surprising, and University officials like associate vice president of admissions Don Bishop have said as much. But the numbers and the move to cap Mendoza’s enrollment are most indicative of the sad fact that Arts & Letters has so far failed to make its case that the degrees it confers are valuable, both in terms of post-graduate employment prospects and the intrinsic value a liberal education carries.
Arts & Letters has to sell prospective students on the following value proposition: A liberal arts education, if not more beneficial than a business degree for one’s post-baccalaureate employment prospects, will at least not hurt them. And, to the extent that a liberal arts degree does not directly translate to immediate and lucrative private-sector employment, you will at least realize benefits of critical thinking and reflection you could not hone as sharply elsewhere.

In short, if you don’t land the finance job because you chose philosophy, you’ll at least be a better person.

I subscribe to this idea wholeheartedly, but there are several structural and rhetorical barriers to making this sale. The first is best summed up by my friend Andrew: “If you’re gonna pay $60,000 a year for this, you better expect a job at the other end.” The job market today compared to the one our parents faced is horrid, and the promise of thinking, speaking and writing more lucidly is poor consolation if your degree doesn’t swiftly punch your ticket to gainful employment. The unemployment rate of Arts & Letters students six months after graduation is only three percent ⎯ compared to one percent in Mendoza ⎯ but the percentage of students opting for law school, grad school and service (all outstanding options) gives pause to parents who write the tuition checks.

Second, Mendoza offers a package that is nothing short of seductive to a freshman who just pulled their nose out of the US News & World Report rankings. Bloomberg Businessweek has reminded Mendoza students and faculty every spring for the past five years that they are the number-one undergrad B-school in the country. Graduate with a 3.8 from Mendoza, and a top investment bank will hire you. Against that, Arts & Letters appears to offer relative uncertainty and insecurity. That’s certainly how it looked to me two years ago as a freshman, even as I took the plunge into the humanities and social sciences.

Capping Mendoza may slow the flow of would-be history majors into accountancy, but it will simultaneously add another layer of exclusivity and cachet to the Notre Dame business major, and thus another hurdle for Arts & Letters in selling first-year students on the liberal arts. First-year students will ask how good Arts & Letters could actually be if it doesn’t actively try to weed freshmen out with an application process or slate of backbreaking classes like Orgo and Transport I. While science and engineering kids say, “I survived,” and business kids say, “I got in,” us Arts & Letters folks will have to find our security elsewhere.

On balance, capping Mendoza enrollment seems like the right, if inevitable, decision. Arts & Letters will need to accompany it with a stellar recruiting effort, or its would-be students will continue looking toward Mendoza, now more exclusive, chic and alluring than ever.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Caton

Alex is a junior political science major living in the caves and ditches of St. Edward's Hall. He has written for the Viewpoint section since spring 2013

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  • Matt

    I personally despise the cap. I came to Notre Dame thinking I wanted to be a Poli Sci major, and guess what? I HATED it, so I needed a new major. Nothing else in Arts and Letters appealed to me, so I chose Mendoza because I’d had a bit of experience with business competitions the spring of my senior year of high school. Forcing high school seniors to seal their fate when they apply doesn’t seem right; now kids might be choosing Mendoza just so they have the option of choosing a different school should they decide business isn’t for them. BUT WAIT, you can’t take business classes during your freshman year, so…how are they going to know if they don’t like business? You won’t, not until it’s too late and you’ve burned a semester of classes on classes that are totally useless in any other department. Congratulations, ND. Trying to save what is clearly a dying Arts & Letters department at the cost of Mendoza’s growth will ensure that ND is going to lose that pretty #1 ranking, because Mendoza’s availability was a pretty big reason it was up there in the first place. Not only that, but you’ve locked kids into committing to something they won’t know they will like until it’s too late and condemned the kids that decide during their freshman year that they want to be business majors (freshmen can’t transfer into Mendoza).

    • CEO (Arts & Letters alum)

      Boo hoo. Ignorance is bliss, right? Arts & Letters is hardly dying, it has the highest ranked departments and most elite faculty. Sounds like you need a two year associates degree with professional training rather than a 4 year degree.

      • Matt

        The qualifications of the faculty don’t matter if enrollment dips as bad as Arts and Letters has. If kids want a practical degree, they should be able to choose it. Now, before you spout off to me about how you’re doing just fine with an Arts and Letters degree–good for you. Guess what? Arts and Letters majors these days are the ones having a hard time because more and more companies want business degrees. Your snide remarks about business degrees say quite a bit about who you are, and I’ll take my 4 year ITM degree, thank you very much.

        • Matthew

          The qualifications of the faculty don’t matter? What planet are you from? The enrollment has not dipped, but clearly student quality in business has. Businesses are not looking for undergrads with mere business degrees. And Arts and Letters aren’t having a difficult time finding a job.

          Have fun working for a Harvard grad who majored in art history.

  • Matthew

    Arts & Letters already has made its case, the problem is with shortsighted parents and students. Perhaps ND attracts the wrong kind of student. Most other universities of Notre Dame’s caliber do not allow undergraduates to major in business, yet their students do not have giant problems finding employment.

    • Matt

      What exactly are students doing that’s shortsighted? Mendoza grads have an easier time getting jobs than Arts and Letters grads, and that’s not by any fault of the Arts and Letters grads. Mendoza grads have a good reputation now, and that’s why they’re getting jobs over Arts and Letters students.

      • McLovin

        Matthew is talking about Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Brown, Northwestern, Chicago, Dartmouth, Duke, etc….. Notre Dame students are a tier below, otherwise they wouldn’t see the need to major in business to get a job. The point is you’re right, and you will be even more right after the cap, I hate comparing ND to other schools, but this is the one time I think those other schools are doing it right.

        • Matt

          I see both of your points, but I’m not so sure ND is doing it wrong. I think it would be fair to say that the kind of student that gets a business job after graduating from any of those schools thinks quite the same way as an ND business major does; the only difference is what’s on the diploma.

          • McLovin

            You missed the point. At school, they educate themselves for the sake of education. They receive a liberal arts education that challenges and improves their critical thinking and get the chance to prove they were intelligent. Just because they approach it as a tool for a job doesn’t change what they learn in the classroom. Learning about the consequences of the past is not only for fun, it challenges a history major to think critically. In Mendoza, you learn teamwork and communication skills, and a bunch of other stuff that is more than you need for your job. Yet, what business job, CPA aside, would not teach you how to balance a T-account or make graphs from a spread sheet in an internship or job training? It’s not just what’s on the degree, it’s what they’re learning, those econ majors at Harvard aren’t learning the difference between a debit and credit, they’re learning concepts and ideas that bring their quantitative thinking to another level. They can learn about what Mendoza kids are learning in an internship.

            There’s the difference, an ND business major only looks at the degree, a Yale graduate may only look at the degree, but he or she would also know that they challenged themselves intellectually. A Mendoza graduate was only intellectually challenged by the b-school curve.

          • Matt

            Explain, then, why the Mendoza school is so highly regarded in the business community and has the best placement rate of any department at ND. You have a point–Ivy-caliber schools do a pretty good job of teaching concepts that work in business without a business school. That said, businesses are changing what they want from applicants–once upon a time, companies cared more about potential than they did ready-to-go people, and for whatever reason, most companies don’t do that anymore. More and more companies want people that are going to do their job with less training time. Perhaps that’s why Mendoza has been doing so well for itself.

          • McLovin

            And A&L doesn’t do that? It does, just that a huge subset of business bound kids surprise go to the business school. I still have this dream that Notre Dame is a top school. Your point stands that companies prefer “ready-to-go” students, but aren’t business students from UT (Bloomberg #6) also ready to go? Way cheaper in-state, and you’ll come with a similar product. The alumni are not worth the extra $150k. Anyway, the point of a liberal arts degree is to raise that potential: the Notre Dame name is the guarantee that the potential is there. Too many ND kids buy into the idea that “intelligence” is set after elementary school.

          • Matt

            If what you say is true, and I think there’s quite a bit that is, then the issue has become Notre Dame’s standing relative to the other schools. If Arts and Letters matched the caliber of Ivy league educations, they wouldn’t have the disparity of job placement rates that exists. I think what’s happened is ND’s liberal arts caliber is just low enough that companies aren’t giving A&L students the same chance that Ivy students are getting. If something needs fixed, it’s A&L, not where ND students decide to major.

          • McLovin

            If you’ve read the article, the man makes a point: it’s a marketing problem not an opportunities problem. Only 1% of A&L is unemployed after 6 months out of college. A&L is doing fine minus its perception.

          • asfeeefefefe

            McLovin, it’s a lost cause. I guess he read this as part of team, but not on his own. Go teamwork, go mendoza.

          • Matthew

            Wow, you really haven’t done your research (real surprising). Arts and Letters at ND is quite high up there and matches the caliber of Ivy League (most of which do not have undergrad business programs). The faculty are world renowned and receive just as many, if not more, prestigious fellowships as their Ivy League counterparts. The doctoral programs are ranked among the nations best and are in fact on the rise. The “disparity” you speak of does not exist. Ask the staff of A&L as well as the employment office here.

            If you think that companies actually look down on Arts & Letters majors at ND because the college isn’t Ivy League caliber, then you’d have to argue that they look down even more upon business students. In any case, the former is not true (but the latter is). A business degree from ND is nothing even close to an A&L degree from an Ivy League school.

            Man, you really need to do you research on these topics. And clearly your aversion to Arts and Letters is symptomatic of your poor research skills.

          • Matt

            This has been about the undergraduate programs. I never said a business degree matched an A&L degree from an Ivy league, but ND’s own A&L sure doesn’t, either.

          • Matthew

            Sure it does. And the quality of the graduate programs and faculty prove that point.

          • Matthew

            Matt, just look at what the rankings examine: GPA and student satisfaction. ND has high admissions standards and high student satisfaction. Those numbers are not peculiar to the business school itself. The rankings reward Mendoza for being at ND. Nothing more than that.

            As for businesses looking for job training skills, that is not necessarily true. The skills you get through a business major can easily be done through internships, and there is no advantage to being a business major. That’s why A&L at ND has done so well for decades and continues to do well.

          • McLovin

            Not to mention that these rankings are rather superficial… if your goal is to get “the best undergrad business experience,” Businessweek says we’re number one, but if we dictate it on job outcomes, the market says UVA, Wharton, Georgetown, and NYU-Stern are better than Mendoza. As such, I think it’s also rather peculiar that he argues that Mendoza is better than Arts&Letters purely on outcome, and reinforces it with the idea of the unending mantra heard from Mendoza: “#1 undergrad business school.”

      • Matthew

        That’s a myth spread by business students. They aren’t having an easier time getting jobs than A&L students. Business leaders, many of whom are A&L graduates themselves, look for people with passion and direction, not cookie cutter business majors.

        • Matt

          Numbers don’t lie. Business majors get jobs faster.

          • Matthew

            Numbers don’t lie, but people do. The track records for both colleges are relatively equal.

  • McLovin

    The only reason a lot of kids go to Mendoza is because they have the easiest class schedule to give them more time to network. Just make business harder and it will even out for sure.

  • Guest

    McLovin maybe if you wouldn’t make ignorant statements people would actually agree with you. I was a dual degree graduating in 2013 in both Arts and Letters and in Business, and I had a 4.0 in Arts and Letters and a 3.2 in Business. Maybe if Arts and Letters students wouldn’t let their inferiority complex get in the way, people would actually take your “analysis of the human condition” classes seriously beyond the future job prospects of a glorified salesperson, graduate student studying something that makes you sound legitimate, or a lawyer.

  • Cody

    I’m a 2012 grad who — after changing majors/career ambitions more than 5 times — ended up with a decent overall GPA (>3.5) and a single major in Theology. I actually began the MTS program at Notre Dame, but left after one semester to pursue private sector employment. Not really having any clue what I wanted to do, I submitted 100+ applications (I’ll show you the spreadsheet where I tracked all of this) to jobs around the country in everything from sales/marketing to publishing, consulting to executive assistants.

    After a grueling four- or five-month search, I ended up getting hired by a small management consulting firm in Washington, DC. I like the job for the most part (consulting can “feel” kind of liberal artsy). But I have no doubt that my job search would have been significantly easier, and resulted in a better position at a more reputable firm with a higher paycheck, had I had a degree from Mendoza. In fact, as I am now thinking about applying to MBA programs in the next 3 to 5 years, I wish I had gone the Mendoza route as an undergrad.

    One piece of this puzzle that you do not mention is that the ND Career Center remains extremely business major focused, even if they pretend like they aren’t. I used the Career Center for general services like reviewing my resume and doing mock-interviews, but few of their recruiting services applied to me.

    • Cody

      I should’ve added another point: In my time as an undergrad, there was a wide-spread perception that the business major was much “easier” than a science or engineering degree, and even some A&L tracks. I certainly felt that way as I struggled through ancient Greek and Hebrew courses.