Online exclusive:Go to www.entrepreneur.com/topcolleges to see the rankings and get information about additional programs that did not make our list. You can also learn more about the top 10 graduate and undergraduate programs by viewing our interactive slideshows.
It's an extraordinary time to study entrepreneurship. With all that the leading colleges and universities have to offer-from studying under professors who've been successful entrepreneurs, to taking classes that focus less on book learning and more on practical exercises in launching real-life businesses-it's no wonder both undergraduates and graduates alike are pursuing an education in entrepreneurship.
If you're a prospective entrepreneur, why should you obtain a degree in entrepreneurship? Maybe you want to start a business, but you're not sure where to start or what type of business you want. Or maybe you've read that most businesses go kaput after five years, and you don't want to end up as a statistic-so you want to learn as much as you can before you take the leap. Or perhaps you want to start your business part time while you learn everything you can to minimize mistakes, suggests George Solomon, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence in the department of management at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
Of course, if you're both an entrepreneur and a parent, maybe you're hoping your son or daughter will succeed in business just like you, so you're researching which colleges will best prepare your child for the exciting and challenging world of owning a business. Zack and Pat Cavitolo, parents of Andrew Cavitolo, can relate to that: Their 21-year-old son is an entrepreneurship student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, our seventh-ranked undergraduate program. The Cavitolos, who own their own catering facility in New York City, knew their son had an interest in entrepreneurship, so they helped him select the right university to suit his goals and interests.
"Being in the program, [Andrew's] experience has been fabulous," says Pat. "He's developing his own apparel company, and that all started when he was in school. It helped him focus and do what he wanted to do." Whatever the case may be, let our 4th annual ranking-conducted jointly by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine-be your primer.
Jump Right In
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."
The diverse backgrounds of the students are what make today's entrepreneurship education a truly interdisciplinary adventure. Sure, traditional business students leap into entrepreneurship and take business classes-but so do students in liberal arts, technology and the sciences.
Alex Farkas, who double-majored in art history and entrepreneurship, was still an undergraduate at the University of Arizona when he launched his Phoenix business with fellow students Stephen Tanenbaum and Greg Rosborough. The 23-year-old co-founders of Ugallery.com believed young artists were clamoring for a place to show and sell their original artwork, and that consumers would gladly trade in their mass-produced art posters for one-of-a-kind creations. The idea originated as a class project but materialized into a successful online emporium that sells the work of student artists.
The collaboration, in-class discussions and mentorship they experienced within the entrepreneurship program helped Farkas and his partners clearly articulate their business plan-which won them more than $22,000 in startup capital at a couple of business plan competitions. Still in the startup stage (the website officially launched in September), Ugallery.com aims to reach $250,000 in sales in its first fiscal year.
Conducting focus groups and giving questionnaires to people in their target market were just some of the assignments Farkas, Tanenbaum and Rosborough had to complete for their classes. "The practical aspect of the entrepreneurship department is that [it] gives you the basic framework [for a business plan]," says Farkas. "But the beautiful part is they really make you go out and figure it out."
Arizona isn't the only school that has inspired cross-disciplinary businesses. Temple University, ranked fourth in the undergraduate and seventh in the graduate listings, boasts its share as well. "Though we are the business school, I truly believe the ideas are in the arts, in the sciences, in health care, in many other [areas]," says M. Moshe Porat, dean of the Fox School of Business and Management, which is home to the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute at Temple in Philadelphia.
Two recent graduates of the program, in fact, started businesses hailing from other disciplines. Phyllis Ludwig, 44, a 2005 MBA graduate, enlisted the help of Temple's College of Education to start Financial Literacy Programs of America LLC, which sells her product, Cent$ableKids, an educational kit that teaches financial literacy to youngsters. And Rebecca Davis, 24, a 2004 Temple graduate, founded The Rebecca Davis Dance Company, a nonprofit organization that teaches dance to youngsters and performs professional dance theater works in the Philadelphia area.
Community involvement might be one of the most valuable lessons taught in entrepreneurship programs today. "Universities not only have to ensure they provide a quality education to the students, but at times they provide service or knowledge to the community [as well]," says Solomon. Syracuse boasts a variety of local and international outreach programs, from MBA students working as consultants for 100 sustainable businesses in local inner-city neighborhoods, to the team of 16 graduate and undergraduate students who spent six weeks last summer working with entrepreneurs in the townships around Cape Town, South Africa. And at the University of Dayton's Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in Dayton, Ohio, all students start businesses during their sophomore year. The center provides $3,000 in startup capital, and when the semester ends, profits are donated to charity.
Clearly, college campuses nationwide are buzzing with entrepreneurial activity. "At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, [entrepreneurship education] unleashes energy that was laying dormant within people," says Solomon. "That's the case with all my colleagues I talk to around the country. They talk about the transformation of some of their students, who come in very shy or disinterested and malcontent, and they leave enthused, energized and focused." And, of course, ready to change the world.
With so many superb entrepreneurship education programs to choose from, we asked Robert Franek, publisher of Princeton Review books, for his best tips on how to select the right one for you.
What should prospective students look for in an entrepreneurship education program?
It's dependent on a lot of things. Many students want to know that there are very clear and practical outcomes-not only for what they're doing in the classroom, but [also] that their degree will work for them with those same practical-based outcomes once they graduate.
You're talking about experiential learning. What other factors can help a prospective student narrow the search?
In our business school [ranking] books, we rank some programs that are especially good for minority students, women or students with families. Start thinking about who [you are] as a student, and where it is that other students [like you] have gone and been quite happy. Those are things [you should] certainly consider. Find out why that school is great for that. Put admissions folks and program-specific folks to task when you're a prospective student and say, "Do you have this? If you don't, why not? Can you get it?"
Other than those suggestions, is there one critical element any good entrepreneurship program should offer?
A dynamic faculty focused on entrepreneurship who have also been successful [entrepreneurs] themselves. And accessibility to those faculty members, [because] I think many faculty members become real mentors for students.