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When you survey 250 colleges across the nation, you begin to uncover some interesting trends. First, experiential learning is on the rise-and it's a guiding principle behind programs like the one at Syracuse University's Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises, our number-one-ranked graduate school program, which sets out to ensure students graduate with practical experience. Writing business plans, conducting feasibility studies, mapping out marketing strategies and seeing how all these translate to real-life businesses is par for the course, says Michael Morris, chairman of the entrepreneurship department at Syracuse. "We have 24 courses . . . but every one of those courses has a central experiential element to it," he says. "When a student finishes our program, they're expected to put together a portfolio of entrepreneurial achievements . . . and all of these are tangible deliverables that students produce as part of courses for real firms and real entrepreneurs."

That's indicative of the evolution of entrepreneurship education programs in recent years-not only are there more today than ever before, but exposing students to hands-on business training is more prominent as well. "I've seen a trend [of] having more [entrepreneurship] courses, which equates to creating [more] degrees, concentrations and majors in schools than ever before," says Solomon. To expand that knowledge even further, GWU's Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence has collaborated with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Delta Epsilon Chi, an international organization for college students that focuses on marketing, management and entrepreneurship, to create 3E-Learning.org. The website is dedicated to sharing entrepreneurial experiential learning techniques among colleges nationwide.

All that hands-on training has led to hands-on entrepreneurs, some venturing out before their degree programs are even finished. In fact, according to the surveys, more than 1,274 students in the top 50 programs nationwide launched businesses while still in school. Collins White, founder of Defenshield Inc., is an example-he launched his business before completing the MBA program at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management. The idea came to him following 9/11, when he noticed the National Guard presence at an airport and felt those guards should have more protection. After sketching out an idea for the Defenshield, a mobile defensive shield that protects law enforcement officers from gunfire and other weapons, he asked his Syracuse professors for business guidance-without which, White stresses, he might never have started the business.

The associate dean at the time encouraged White to take a leave of absence to pursue the East Syracuse, New York, business full time in 2002. "That's what the School of Management is all about-to get people out and doing their own things," says White, 41, "and if the timing is critical, which it was at the time, to go forward with the business-the school would be there next year or the year after that." With a military, governmental and private-sector customer base, Defenshield expects annual sales to pass the $5 million mark this year. But White hasn't forgotten about Syracuse: He plans to return and finish his final four class credits to earn his MBA in 2007.

That kind of faculty support is a hallmark of the top collegiate programs. At the University of Arizona's McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, our number-one-ranked undergraduate program, three full-time instructors also function as full-time mentors to the center's 100 graduate students and undergraduates. Says Sherry Hoskinson, center director, "We've been able to create a curriculum approach that allows us to teach the elements common to any venture or new idea within the classroom, and then customize that education based on industries, markets, ideas, students, backgrounds and experiences within [the] mentoring role we've developed."

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This article was originally published in the October 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Schooled.

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