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The Future of the Undergraduate Business Degree

Thursday, September 8, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Melinda Dorning

By Susan Bogle
August 30, 2016

Many of the phrases we use in the workplace today, such as "in the black," are reminiscent of an era when bookkeeping was done in actual books. Times, tools and technology have changed, and it's exciting as ever to venture into a career in business. With the evolution of today's connected and often-global workplace comes the need for new skill sets, and business education plays a crucial in equipping students with the knowledge and know-how needed to meet industry demands.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) has business education roots stemming back to 1932, when it was founded as The New Hampshire School for Accounting and Secretarial Science. While today's professional landscape is much different than in its early days, SNHU's commitment to preparing students for successful business careers hasn't changed. The university has been innovating ever since and is set for the future of undergraduate business education.

Accessible and Convenient Programs

Online business education is the future. In fact, you could say it's already here. Since 1995, SNHU has offered its bachelor's degrees online, recognizing more than two decades ago that a shift in business (and all) education was on the horizon. Online programs allow students to earn their degrees quicker, and on their own terms and time - perhaps while also gaining real-world experience as working professionals. No longer does someone have to put an education on hold because they don't have the time to devote to on-campus classes. Online programs make it feasible for someone to attend college and work full-time - and with fewer sacrifices.

It's not just cultural changes that fueled efforts to make education more accessible and convenient. Technology has led to advances in undergraduate business education, especially in online programs. Course delivery systems are more interactive than ever, with capability for instructors and students to engage in meaningful discussions and use multimedia content, such as videos, to learn and share. It's education on-demand, in a way. Today's learners use an array of devices to complete assignments and connect with classmates, so you can bet that the future of business education is dependent upon adapting to these preferences, with systems and material designed for access from desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and whatever device is next.

Course work is not all that becomes accessible and convenient as business education evolves; it's also an entire support system and many services once only found on campus. At SNHU, academic advisors are just an email (or phone call) away. Career services resources, including webinars, are available online. The Online Writing Center is just a few clicks away, and it is filled with information to help business students complete clear and properly sourced writing assignments. Thanks to online databases and ebooks, SNHU's Shapiro Library is accessible 24/7 to students, no matter where they are, putting scholarly research, business publications and related books right at your fingertips.

Business programs today must serve a new population of learners. The future of undergraduate business education demands the same level of education and support, but in new and exciting ways.

Emphasis on Soft Skills and Liberal Arts

Hiring managers today are looking for candidates who aren't just business-savvy spreadsheet wizards, but also those who can communicate well in person and in writing, are able to make thoughtful decisions and excel at solving problems, alone or as part of a team. Collectively, these attributes are commonly referred to as "soft skills." A liberal arts institution, SNHU prides itself on instilling these valuable assets in its undergraduate business education programs. In fact, while traditional business schools find ways to incorporate liberal arts, this is something that comes naturally for SNHU. The institution understands, and always has, that a broader worldview enhances success.

Three of the most desirable soft skills in today's workplace, according to Burning Glass Technology, include communication, organizational and writing skills. SNHU's undergraduate business degree program includes a general education core which contains courses that develop theses soft skills, including composition and classes within the arts, humanities and social science disciplines.

Of those three, perhaps the skill most necessary in today's information-heavy environment is writing. Written communication touches everything we do, from sales letters and presentations to internal company emails and memos. No matter what your position within a company, having a command for the English language is pivotal to professional communication. Through assignments - and online discussion with classmates - you will hone your writing skills as a business major.

Business education programs in the future will likely see a lot more of a multidisciplinary approach for others reasons, too. As more people wish to specialize in specific areas of business, taking courses across subject areas, perhaps adding a concentration, will provide a foundation for whatever their career goals are. For example, a business major wishing to work in government might choose electives in political science, or someone with a desire to work for an environmental group might enjoy taking ecology or biology electives. The combinations are seemingly endless. Business majors, in the future, will get more creative in how they build their educational experiences and programs will give them the flexibility to do so.

Information on the Rise

Just as technology has made online education possible, it's also changing how businesses run. The future of undergraduate business education will require us to take into consideration the tools, programs, equipment and processes in place in the industry today - and to keep an eye on where they are headed tomorrow.

One area of growth in recent years is data. While this explosion has led to a growing number of positions in the web and information technology areas to collect and process data, there's also a growing need for business professionals, such as marketing, business development or operations managers, to be able to understand and use data wisely - to make evidence-based decisions, from sales to logistics. This means more and more business programs will begin to offer individual courses in this and other technology-related areas. For example, SNHU's Bachelor of Science in business studies with a concentration in computer information technology blends business and IT.

We live in the information age, and chief technology officer positions are increasing. Having professionals with an understanding of business practices, data, and the behind-the-scenes aspect of data management is key to fill these high-level leadership roles.

The Way We Work - Efficiency and Productivity

Technology has also changed the way we work, from managing remote teams to using new software applications and tools to collaborate. Additionally, there are new and more sophisticated ways to measure productivity and manage projects. The future of business education will certainly address these company cultural shifts from an operational standpoint. The demand for these professionals has spawned specialized degree programs, such as SNHU's Bachelor of Science in business administration, with concentrations in organizational leadership, as well as bachelor's in business studies with concentration in operations and project management. Project managers will continue to be vital members of business teams for their focus on improving processes for greater productivity and profitability.

Aside from specialized programs, business education, in general will focus on how organizations are managed today so that graduates will be prepared to work on teams and possess a high-level understanding of how businesses can use technology to run smoothly and efficiently.

Opportunity to Specialize

As the business world becomes more varied and complex and as new industries take rise, the future of undergraduate business education will likely see more choices. For example, SNHU's business administration and business studies majors offer many concentrations that allow students to specialize. The tried and true fields of accounting, marketing and finance are now joined by sports management, healthcare management, project management, nonprofit management, small business management and computer information technology, among others.

It's clear that savvy businesspeople are needed in industries of all kinds, and there are a whole new set of professional skills that must come along for the ride. It's important for undergraduate business degree programs to pay attention and respond to these trends - and to create strong leaders and skilled professionals who can fill a growing number of positions requiring more specific experience and knowledge. You will see SNHU's commitment to that notion evident in its undergraduate business programs online and on campus. SNHU seeks to grow its offerings based on what today's employers want.

Practical Application Elements

Real-world experience is an incredibly valuable asset to bring to the workforce. Undergraduate business education programs today must complement course work with opportunities for engagement. SNHU constantly looks for ways for its business students to connect their learning to their present work and to the world around them. From business simulations and case studies that explore real-world scenarios to senior capstone projects and internships, students can put theory into action as they think critically, solve problems and participate in hands-on learning.

SNHU is fortunate to have an outstanding business faculty who brings with it an array of subject matter expertise. Faculty members bring learning to life as they discuss their personal experiences. The same can be said for what each business major brings to the classroom, too. Seeing how others implement business principles into their professions is an effective and valuable learning tool.

Undergraduate business education programs, in the future, will continue to develop and nurture relationships with organizations in an effort to find practical, collaborative experiences for students. These partnerships could mean an internship for an individual student or perhaps a company with a problem that students can take on as a class research project.

Many of today's online business students are already working professionals. Students can immediately implement what they learn into their current positions.

Increase in Global Awareness

From Main Street, America, to Dubai, businesses today know no borders. Technology allows us to communicate across continents more easily, and this - and relaxed trade laws - opens up the door to greater opportunity for organizations large and small to compete at a global level. Today, there is a greater demand for people with global business experience, and undergraduate programs are responding by offering degrees specializing in international business and also by implementing more of a multinational and multicultural perspective in general business programs and courses.

Whether you plan to work overseas, travel frequently on business or collaborate with colleagues across the globe, it's important to understand cultural differences. For this reason, undergraduate business education will continue to explore business issues at an international level.

Corporate Social Responsibility & Ethics

Our world has become more transparent, and society, in general, demands accountability for actions made by business leaders. Today, businesses are expected to also be stewards of the environment, to be compassionate to their employees, to be upstanding citizens in the communities they call home. It's often referred to as the triple bottom line: people, planet profit.

This rise in corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a good thing for all - it builds trust, for one. Businesses are publishing their corporate values on their websites and painting them on the walls in their headquarters - this boosts morale and contributes to a shared culture. Organizations of all kinds are exploring ways to make environmentally friendly, socially responsible choices, and are implementing initiatives to give back, either with financial contributions, infrastructure changes or by employee engagement in the community. SNHU, for instance, became the first carbon-neutral campus in New Hampshire.

While many undergraduate business degree program graduates go on to work for NGOs (non-governmental organizations), companies of all kinds are growing their corporate social responsibility arms, creating new positions - including those at the C-level - for those looking for helping careers, but in a corporate environment. Companies are more commonly founded with a social mission - think Tom's Shoes or Burt's Bees - where a portion of revenue goes toward a cause.For those students looking to get into nonprofit leadership, SNHU's Bachelor of Science in business administration offers a concentration in nonprofit management.

But what's more important about this trend is that business students - no matter what their end career goal - are getting exposed to ethical questions they and their employees, employers or boards may encounter. The future of undergraduate business education will see more of an emphasis on sustainability and ethics throughout the curriculum. For instance, a Social Environment of Business class touches on the interrelationships between business, government and society. The sports management concentration offers a class in Sport, Society, and Ethics, which examines issues and controversies in the field. A Financial Regulations and Ethics course covers ethical considerations in support of fiduciary responsibilities.

For those looking beyond the bachelor's degree, MBA programs today often place a strong emphasis on CSR, even building programs around it. SNHU offers an online MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility, a natural next step for a bachelor's degree-holder who is inspired to grow as an ethical leader.

Preparation for an Advanced Degree

A Master of Business Administration (MBA), is an attractive credential. SNHU understands that many business undergraduates have sights set higher: they ultimately want an advanced degree, either an MBA or a master of science in accounting, finance or management. A solid undergraduate business education program will prepare those who plan to pursue an advanced business degree - most graduate programs demand specific undergraduate business prerequisites, presenting more of a challenge for those whose undergraduate studies were in another field. As the demand for MBA- or master's-holding professionals grows, undergraduate business degree programs must continue to ensure the curriculum meets typical graduate school admissions requirements.

Focus on Outcomes

Today's undergraduate business education programs must focus on the end result. SNHU builds its programs and services around its students' success. Graduates complete their undergraduate business degree ready for their next career move, whether it's landing a first job in a new industry, changing career direction or seeking advancement or higher pay. From course work that results in marketable skills to offering career services-such as resume, interviewing and networking assistance-SNHU believes that business education should ultimately give a student everything they need to succeed. Business programs are stronger when they're designed with the end goal in mind.

The future of undergraduate business education will continue to evolve. SNHU continues to evaluate its programs and update them according to the most current needs. It's crucial that programs align with the needs of the business community. This includes freshening up existing courses or introducing new degree programs. It's an exciting time for business majors, and there have never been more options at SNHU.