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Entrepreneurship education is coming of age in America's classrooms. Find out which schools make the grade in our 2nd Annual Top 100 Entrepreneurial Colleges and Universities.
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This story appears in the May 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Entrepreneurship education used to be a few courses taught in a few business schools. Then it became a lot of courses in a lot of business schools. Now it's becoming much more, including full-fledged doctoral degree programs, university departments, endowed professorships, and even a change in the way entire universities approach educating their students.

"The great new turf in the next three to four years is the massive support for 'entrepreneurship across the curriculum' efforts," says David Newton, founder and CEO of TechKnowledge Point Corp., the Santa Barbara, California-based venture research firm that compiled the data for Entrepreneur's 2nd Annual Top 100 Entrepreneurial Colleges and Universities.

Newton, who is also professor of entrepreneurial finance at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, and other entrepreneurship educators say the cross-curriculum movement promises to institutionalize entrepreneurial thinking in higher education outside of the business school, making it part of far more students' educations.

"It's having biology, sociology, pre-med, engineering and sports medicine students take one or two entrepreneurship courses during their studies," says Newton. The reason educators are embracing entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurial thinking is becoming recognized as fundamental to developing skills in analysis, communication, critical thinking, innovation and other competencies of higher education. "A high-quality liberal arts education is now viewed as a perfect complement to an entrepreneurship education and perspective, and vice versa."

Other educators see similar expansion of entrepreneurship education. "It's going beyond the traditional boundaries of business schools in terms of where it's located," says William B. Gartner, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California. Indeed, entrepreneurship programs have sprung up at universities that don't even have business schools, appearing as part of sociology, engineering or other curricula.

While entrepreneurship is spreading across more curricula and institutions, it is also being refined, according to the results of our 2004 study. This year's ranking looked at an increasing number of characteristics to improve precision. Among the changes Newton describes are more carefully defining incubators and technology transfer initiatives, and allowing subcategories within program offerings where there's more than one focus.

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. For detailed listings, sorts and comparisons, plus complete analysis of more than 60 criteria for 500-plus entrepreneurship programs nationwide, go to www.entrepoint.com.

More data and greater precision are good ideas from the prospective student's point of view, says Scott Shane, professor of economics and entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "There's getting to be a much greater divergence among the providers of entrepreneurship education," says Shane. "It matters more where you're getting your education. It used to be that everybody offered the same thing. Now people are focusing on different topics, using different tools, and applying different techniques in the classroom. It's more important to be an educated consumer."

Changes between the first rankings in 2003 and this year's are many but are mostly modest. Five programs, including Babson College; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; The University of Arizona; University of California, Berkeley; and University of Maryland, College Park, repeated as members of the top tier of national Comprehensive programs. Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), however, both dropped out of the top tier.

Ball State University; California State University, Fresno; St. Louis University; University of Oregon; and University of Portland appeared for a second year in the top tier of the regional Comprehensive program rankings. Elsewhere, new faces showed up, including Temple University among national reputation institutions and Auburn University in the regional group.

Gaining Status

In general, the popularity of entrepreneurship continues unabated in higher education. "It's growing rapidly on a long-term trend," says Shane. "If anything, the trend of entrepreneurship education is stronger than business in general. We're seeing declining enrollment in MBA programs but increasing enrollment in graduate entrepreneurship programs."

One reason for rising enrollment in entrepreneurship programs is the growing number of college students, thanks to a baby boomlet now washing through higher education. Another reason is the changing perception of traditional employment as a source of security. "The social contract with large companies has broken down," says Shane. "People view starting their own companies as less risky than employment."

Today's students represent another shift, away from those who flocked to e-commerce programs and other flash-in-the-pan features of premillennial business education. "A few years ago, I was getting very disturbed because, when students thought about entrepreneurship, they thought it meant a quick investment and a lot of money," says Don Kuratko, professor of entrepreneurship at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. "We're starting to see students learn how to really be entrepreneurs, how to bootstrap, how to manage, how to be committed to creating something with value."

Entrepreneurship education is also changing. Today's courses are more likely to be taught by a professional academic with a doctorate and an orientation toward research than an adjunct professor with a resume as a successful entrepreneur. This is leading to the development of a basic framework for teaching entrepreneurship, says Michael H. Morris, a professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. "There aren't standard curriculum models in entrepreneurship," he says. "But they're emerging." Those models typically include a course on writing business plans, providing consulting to small businesses, studying entrepreneurial finance, and managing innovation as main elements.

One of the solid trends in entrepreneurship education is toward experiential learning. Competitions for the best business plan or elevator pitch, opportunities to consult to real-world small businesses, simulations, incubators, on-campus venture funds and other approaches provide students with learning experiences that many educators deem more effective than the conventional textbook approach. "We're seeing more students getting out of the classroom and into the practice field," confirms Kuratko. "There's a move away from classroom teaching to the field approach."

Change is also taking place in the research programs related to these entrepreneurship programs. A keystone research project, the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics, began in 1996 and involved contacting more than 64,000 U.S. households in the search for nascent entrepreneurs. The researchers wound up with 830 people who were willing to let their business startups be studied for two years. The study seeks to answer four fundamental questions, including: 1)Who is starting businesses? 2)How do they go about it? 3)Which efforts are most likely to produce new firms? 4)Why do some startups create high-growth firms? Specific topics covered were strategies, opportunity evaluation, networks, financial characteristics, management teams and more.

"It's the largest random sample of people who are getting into business," says Gartner. "You name it, it's all there. It's the mother lode of information about entrepreneurial processes, and we've just begun to analyze it." Results are starting to be published in academic journals, and Gartner believes the findings will overturn many myths about new-venture creation and revolutionize the way entrepreneurship is taught. "For instance, it will challenge our thinking of the importance of venture capital," says Gartner. "If we're teaching in general about how to finance companies, the VC mode is probably not relevant."

Up to the Challenge
Kate Spisak didn't start out to major in entrepreneurship. The 22-year-old senior at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, began as a business major and got interested in entrepreneurship because of the promise of challenge and independence. "I was unsure what direction I wanted to go," says Spisak, "but I couldn't see myself sitting at a day-to-day job doing the same thing over and over."

Part of the challenge of the entrepreneurship program for Spisak is the final senior project to write a business plan. "We draw it up, create it, and go through management, marketing and finding the financing," she says. "At the end of the semester, we present it to a board of business professionals [who] judge how well we put together and presented our plan. We find out right then whether we graduate. It's pass/fail; if you don't pass the business plan class, you don't graduate."

Spisak plans to graduate on schedule, after which she's not sure. "But that's the beauty of entrepreneurship," she says.

"The doors are open. I can be qualified to work in any kind of business. It's a jack-of-all-trades major, because you learn about every department and you learn how to speak entrepreneurially."

Big Major on Campus

Entrepreneurship education has clearly arrived on the academic scene, as endowed professorships, research funding, scholarships, and even entire departments of entrepreneurship multiply on campuses across the nation. Behind the proliferation of technology-transfer programs, multidisciplinary curricula and swelling enrollments is another perhaps more profound but less visible trend: a change in the esteem in which entrepreneurship is held.

The boom in entrepreneurship education in the last decade, to a considerable degree, reflected universities' pursuit of donations from entrepreneurial alumni. While that allure lasted, entrepreneurship education was on probation in the view of many academics. But now that the dotcom dollars have dried up, entrepreneurship is still around and has become a significant and lasting component for literally hundreds of higher education institutions.

Behind that is yet another change: a shift in regarding entrepreneurship education less as a business school subject, or how-to instruction on starting a business, and more as a way of approaching behavior. Interest in entrepreneurial processes is permeating universities and corporations, where starting an enterprise isn't necessarily the desired end result.

"Our purpose is to develop or uncover in students their own entrepreneurial perspective," says Kuratko. "We're trying to make them understand they have a creative and innovative side that can be used and applied at the proper time in their lives. For our economy to excel in the 21st century, we need entrepreneurial thinkers. That's what we're preparing our young people to be."

Changing of the Guard
Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School are recognized as among the best sources of business education in the United States, if not the world. So it was no surprise when Entrepreneur's 2003 rankings placed both schools' entrepreneurship education programs in the top tier. This year, however, both were replaced in the top tier by other programs. Given that neither school made significant changes to its entrepreneurship offerings, what's the explanation? In a word: focus.

"This list is not 'top business schools' overall, including finance, international business, marketing and such," reminds David Newton, whose company, Santa Barbara, California-based TechKnowledge Point, compiled data for the 2003 and 2004 rankings. "This ranking is only entrepreneurship. We measure more than 60 separate program dimensions, and schools like Arizona, DePaul, Maryland and others have made entrepreneurship their flagship effort. They now have some of the best course offerings, faculty, special initiatives and opportunities for venturing."

Newton also says rankings move based on a change of relatively few points in a school's score, or in that of other schools. "The reality is, Harvard and Wharton are still in the top 50 schools in the United States," he says. "But the rankings do place them within a given [tier of schools] in the top 50 that are most similar to them in terms of entrepreneurship."

To view the 2nd Annual Top Entrepreneurial Colleges and Universities listing, click here.

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