U.S. Entrepreneurship Education Lags
The state of entrepreneurship education and training in U.S. schools has declined sharply, with a 2008 survey of experts rating it barely half as good as it was in 2005.
The findings are part of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Special Report: A Global Perspective on Entrepreneurship Education and Training, released today at Babson College, the project's lead sponsor and co-founder.
GEM teams conduct surveys in 31 countries, polling a sample of people who are considered experts in some 10 areas including financial support for entrepreneurs, bureaucracy, and taxes, and, of course, education itself. The experts rate conditions such as whether the education system "encourages creativity, self-sufficiency and personal initiative," and whether it provides "adequate instruction in market economic principles."
Although training has received low ratings every year since the surveys began in 2000, the ratings in most countries have been consistent even though the pool of experts has changed – with the U.S. and Spain being the exception.
"Clearly, this issue is of concern to experts," write the report's five authors, including Babson professor Donna Kelley.
Ratings of non-school entrepreneurship education – such as self-study or Internet courses – also have declined in the U.S., although nowhere near as sharply as that of the formal programs.
The report also showed that instruction for innovators worldwide is inadequate, especially in primary and secondary schools – which also happens to be where most of the formal training occurs, and where it has greater impact. A 2009 World Economic Forum report found that the earlier people are exposed to entrepreneurship, the more likely they'll become entrepreneurs in some format during their lives.
"Training at a young age cultivates an entrepreneurial spirit early on, but college-level training is important too, because it validates entrepreneurship as a potential career path," says Kelley. "Besides skill-building, training increases an individual's awareness of entrepreneurship and their intent to start a business, and improves perceptions about their ability to do so." (According to the report, college dropouts Bill Gates and Steve Jobs may make for "interesting news stories" but they don't represent the typical entrepreneur, "particularly for businesses with knowledge-based products and services.")
One problem with beefing up entrepreneurial education: University doctorate programs aren't producing enough faculty to meet demand – and the faculty available may be too narrowly specialized. "The development of effective programs for entrepreneurship likely requires more than adding new courses," concludes the report. Educators and policy makers may need to move beyond on-site university programs and consider Internet-based learning or creative computer applications, the latter of which "may attract and hold the interest of some people, influencing their attitudes toward – and their understanding of – entrepreneurship."
Other study findings: Across 38 countries (not including the U.S.), Finland and Chile – both countries with government policies designed to spur entrepreneurship – had the highest levels of training. Men were more likely than women to pursue training, and the young were more likely to have been trained in start-up techniques, thanks to their being included in many countries' educational systems in recent years.
Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.