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University considers limiting business majors

Erickson, Beth | Thursday, November 6, 2003

Due to the steadily increasing number of undergraduate business majors at Notre Dame, University Provost Nathan Hatch and the deans of the University’s colleges are currently discussing several structural changes to the Mendoza College of Business.

The College of Business currently enrolls 1,769 undergraduate business majors, constituting 32 percent of all undergraduate majors. This proportion is extremely high relative to the average percentage of undergraduate business majors at Notre Dame’s top 20 peer institutions – 7 percent.

“There has been an increasing trend in the number of undergraduate business majors,” vice president and associate provost John Affleck-Graves said. “It is our responsibility to explore this and determine whether this fits with our mission statement and the overall goals and aspirations of the University.”

Many feel that the size of the undergraduate business program at Notre Dame may conflict with the University’s mission of education in the liberal arts.

“There seems to be support for limits on majors in Business from a variety of fronts,” Mark Roche, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said. “I am optimistic about our addressing the challenge, which should bring us closer to our ideals as a Catholic liberal arts university.”

Carolyn Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business, said the business program itself in no way diverges from Notre Dame’s Catholic mission.

The difficulty lies in the program’s limited capacity to serve its large number of students, Woo said. While the college enrolls one-third of all undergraduate students, it only employs one-eighth of the University’s full-time faculty.

“It is this severe imbalance that causes the problem,” Woo said.

In the past 10 years, the number of undergraduate business majors has increased by approximately 20 percent.

Enrollment has since reached a plateau, remaining relatively consistent for the past five years. This plateau can be partially attributed to a recent policy that dictates no more than 18 percent of business intents shall be admitted to each freshman class.

Business has become the most popular undergraduate major at Notre Dame because of word of mouth and role modeling, Woo said.

“Most people can imagine themselves succeeding in business,” she said. “Most people work in business, period.”

It is an interesting major with a strong national reputation and a strong placement program, Woo said.

“I think that it is well taught, and the highly passionate faculty care a lot about students succeeding,” she said.

The strategy with which this issue will be approached has not yet been chosen.

“We are still at the stage of exploring the problem and determining why we are so different from other universities,” Affleck-Graves said.

Several possible approaches to the problem are under review:

– The College is exploring the possibility of creating a business minor.

However, shifting capacity to accommodate minors may prove difficult, Woo said. If the college does opt to offer a minor and the number of majors does not decrease, this plan will backfire and require even more faculty, she said.

Undergraduate business students have shown little interest in a business minor program, Woo said.

– The College may improve its capacity to meet the level of enrollment of its undergraduate program by hiring additional instructors.

– The College is considering capping undergraduate enrollment.

All other top undergraduate business programs in the nation have extremely competitive application processes, Woo said. However, she does not envision a facile implementation of such an application process at Notre Dame.

“No one at Notre Dame is unable to succeed as a business major,” Woo said. “It is not a matter of whether students qualify.”

Chao-Shin Liu, professor of accounting, said that, although it is not desirable for a liberal arts university to enroll too many business majors, “it is also [Notre Dame’s] tradition that students are free to choose any college without restrictions [unlike Michigan and many other universities.]”

In the event of an enrollment cap in the College of Business, the University must “ensure that budgetary strategies are in place to deal with unintended consequences, such as an overabundance of students in certain colleges or departments,” Roche said. “While some departments in Arts and Letters, for example, could absorb more students, others are close to their capacity to meet student needs.”

– Business students may be encouraged to pursue other majors.

According to Woo, this is a University-level issue. Guidance must be provided by the University and the other Colleges to promote alternate majors.

“Personally, I think a very popular College of Business is not the problem,” Liu said. “The problem is why some other colleges become so unpopular.”