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Is Entrepreneurship Education Weakening in America? Since 2009, fewer Americans say their schools encourage the development of entrepreneurial principles.

By Scott Shane Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Americans no longer perceive that their schools and universities are training them to become entrepreneurs the way they did only a few years ago. Between 2009 and 2012, the percentage of Americans who believe that their education made them more interested in becoming an entrepreneur; helped them to develop an entrepreneurial attitude; improved their understanding of the role of entrepreneurs in society; and gave them the skills needed to open a business, has dropped substantially, a survey by TNS Custom Research reveals.

The telephone survey of a representative sample of approximately 3,000 Americans was conducted as part of a broader study of people in the 27 member states of the European Union and in Brazil, China, Croatia, Iceland, India, Israel, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Japan and South Korea in the summer of 2012 on behalf of the European Commission. Because the survey followed up a similar one conducted in 2009, we can see how Americans' views of education have changed over the past three years.

Fewer Americans reported that their education increased their interest in becoming an entrepreneur. In 2009, 51 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that "my school education is making/has made me interested in becoming an entrepreneur." In 2012, only 39 percent agreed.

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A smaller fraction of Americans said that their education helped them to develop an entrepreneurial attitude. In 2009, 74 percent of Americans said that "my school education is helping/has helped me to develop my sense of initiative and a sort of entrepreneurial attitude." By 2012, the fraction had declined 15 percentage points, to 59 percent.

Fewer U.S. residents said that their education helped them to understand what entrepreneurs do. In 2009, 71 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "my school education is helping/has helped me to better understand the role of entrepreneurs in society." By 2012, the share had dropped 12 percentage points to 59 percent.

A lower proportion of Americans said that their schooling gave them the skills to run a company. In 2009, 67 percent of Americans said "my school education is giving/has given me skills and know-how to enable me to run a business." By 2012, the share had fallen to 54 percent.

Related: Entrepreneurs are Weakening as Job Creators, But Don't Blame Washington

The decline in the fraction of Americans reporting that their schooling contributed to their understanding of entrepreneurship was not shared across the pond. Between 2009 and 2012, the proportion of Europeans agreeing with all four statements about the contribution of their education to their development of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills went up.

Americans remain slightly more likely than Europeans to take entrepreneurship courses or undertake entrepreneurship activities at school or in university. According to the Flash Euro Barometer, 26 percent of Americans reported that they had taken part in such a course or activity when they were asked in 2012, as compared with 23 percent of the residents of the 27 countries of the European Union.

While the European Commission did not report demographic differences among Americans in their view of the contribution that education made to the development of entrepreneurial skills and attitudes, they did indicate those differences for Europeans. Among residents of the 27 countries of the European Union, women were less likely than men to agree with the four statements about the role of education in the development of entrepreneurial attitudes and skills, with the gap being largest for the skills to run a company. In addition, those under the age of 25; those who viewed self-employment as more feasible and desirable; and those who had already begun the entrepreneurial process, were more likely than others to agree with all four statements.

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Scott Shane

Professor at Case Western Reserve University

Scott Shane is the A. Malachi Mixon III professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University. His books include Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live by (Yale University Press, 2008) and Finding Fertile Ground: Identifying Extraordinary Opportunities for New Businesses (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005).

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