Universities Responding to a Generation of High School Entrepreneurs

University of Michigan’s “aha” moment was recognizing that 10 percent of their incoming students had started a business in high school.

There was a well-balanced article by Kate Zernike in The New York Times last week about declining university enrollment in degree paths such as American studies, philosophy and the classics. Students (and their parents) are increasingly arriving on campus looking for a direct-line route to a high-paying career, asking “How will this major translate into a job?”

There are obvious arguments against carrying this to extremes, but many universities have responded to this trend, and their own need to trim costs, by reducing or eliminating majors that aren’t drawing many students.

On the flip side, entrepreneurship is one area experiencing increased interest from students.

In Michigan, where the recession hit early and hard, universities are particularly focused on being relevant to the job market. “There’s been this drumbeat that Michigan has got to diversify its economy,” says Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan.

Dr. Coleman says she had an “aha” moment five years ago, when the director of admissions was describing the incoming class and noted that 10 percent — some 600 students — had started a business in high school. The university has responded with about 100 entrepreneurship courses across the curriculum, including “Financing Research Commercialization” and “Engineering Social Venture Creation,” for students interested in creating businesses that not only do well financially but also do society good. Next year, the university will begin offering a master’s to students who commit to starting a high-tech company.

If you haven’t read my recent article on entrepreneurship within the McCombs undergraduate program, I encourage you to do so now. College Professors Act as Consultants and Mentors for Young Entrepreneurs.


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