Center College’s Creation Of A Business Major
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Center College’s Creation Of A Business Major

We are always reading about the programs which colleges and universities are terminating but rarely celebrating the new ones that they are adding to their curriculum. At many colleges, the suggestion of adding new programs, especially when they are outside the bounds of the very traditional liberal arts majors, is usually greeted quite negatively. Concerns tend to range from the fact that the program isn’t consistent with the college’s mission to the fact that it will divert students from already underenrolled programs to the need for new faculty in different academic areas which will exacerbate resource allocation concerns.

At Centre College in Kentucky when Milton Moreland became president in 2020, he suggested that the College was losing potential students because it didn’t have a business program. This suggestion was greeted less than favorably especially by the economics faculty which had the largest program on campus. The assumption was that a business program would cannibalize the economics program because it was assumed that many econ majors would switch to business and there was no certainty that a business program would increase the College’s overall enrollment. Furthermore, there were concerns that a business program would require new faculty who were not familiar with the culture of Centre College.

In the spirit of being open-minded, four of the economics faculty agreed to study the implications of adding a business program to the curriculum over the summer of 2020. The economics faculty became convinced that the college was losing potential students at the beginning of the admissions pipeline because they didn’t have a business program and that the addition of a business program could add to the College’s overall enrollment. They wrote a white paper in which they proposed adding a business program. They went further and designed the curriculum for the program that intentionally included the liberal arts in the business curriculum and allowed for framing of issues from multiple perspectives. For example, they asked other departments to develop courses which became known as BLAPs – Business: A Liberal Arts Perspective; these courses included:

  • “Creating Corporate America,” taught by the History Department;
  • “Art and Markets,” taught by the Art History department;
  • “Religion and Money,” taught by the Religion Department; and
  • “Fiction as Business” taught by the English Department.

These are just a few of the courses taught by other departments to support the new business program. This strategy integrated the business major with the other departments on campus and would allow all departments to benefit from the expected increased enrollment.

The question still remained as to where the faculty for this new major would come from. There was great concern that the business faculty, new to Centre, would not fit in; would not fully appreciate the College’s approach to the liberal arts; and would be very expensive to hire. The four economics faculty who wrote the white paper proposed that they would retool themselves so that they could teach both business and economics. They asked that the College pay for them to go back to school to retool and get the required credentials to teach the business curriculum. The College agreed and five economics faculty actually enrolled in online programs to get their credentials. Two got MBAs, one at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and one at the Giles School of Business at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne while two got Master of Science degrees in management from Illinois and in strategic management from Indiana and a fifth faculty got a graduate certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship from the Harvard Extension School. The faculty felt that this was not only good for the Centre but it was also “role modeling for the students – learning never ends – lifelong learners is what we want our students to be” said Ravi Radhakrishnan, Associate Professor of Economics and Business.

The result has been that the economics department has maintained its enrollment and the business program attracted 42 new students in 2023 and 80 students in 2024 becoming the largest program on campus. According to Marie Petkus, Ewing T. Boles Associate Professor of Economics and Business, “because of my MBA training, I am a better teacher of economics. I have an improved understanding of business applications for economic subject material that I bring into the classroom. I also have an up-to-date view of the challenges and opportunities businesses face across a variety of fronts. I am using these insights to more effectively prepare students for their time after Centre.”

According to Ellen Goldey, VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, “the new business program has been hugely successful; it didn’t ‘eat’ the econ students and the overall increase in enrollment at the Centre is largely due to the business program.” This model won’t work at all colleges or for all new majors but it is worth considering and exploring where current faculty, especially in underenrolled majors, may want to be retrained to teach in another field where there is significant demand. It also requires a level of trust between faculty and administration to have honest conversations about enrollment and academic programs to be willing to explore alternative models of adding new programs.