College Builds Entrepreneur Expertise, According to NYU Research

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 31, 2016 at 2:05 pm
College Builds Entrepreneur Expertise, According to NYU Research

Some of the most famous entrepreneurs in American history are those who never finished college. There’s a certain cache to the idea that good ideas and certain innate qualities of innovation are all you need to start a successful business. New research out from New York University finds that college does bring something to the table for future entrepreneurs.

Matthew J. Mayhew, associate professor of higher education at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, along with colleagues, looked at several countries to see if college education codifies creative thought and stifles innovative impulses. The researchers wanted to see if these are skills that can be taught or something you have or don’t.

Three types of schools were examined: an American MBA program, US four-year undergraduate setting, and a five-year German business and technology-focused program. Students were measured in terms of personality, like how extroverted they are and how open to new experience. Researchers also surveyed about college experiences: how challenging it was, their faculty relationships, and problem solving strategies. Finally, the crucial question was about student “intentions to innovate in an entrepreneurial capacity.”

American and German students were both positively influenced towards plans for entrepreneurship by their educational experiences. Male students were most likely to lean in this direction, particularly those identifying as politically conservative or Asian. This is in line with previous findings on innovation. Students with a family history of entrepreneurship were also more inclined.

Certain personality traits are linked to being more innovation oriented. German students who are extroverted, conscientious, and open to new experiences are statistically more likely to plan entrepreneurial innovation. For American undergraduates, the related traits are extraversion and conscientiousness, while for MBA candidates it is simply being open to new experiences.

Mayhew explained by email the significance of the research findings to higher education policy makers. “Students demonstrate greater innovative entrepreneurial intentions when provided with assessments that encourage creative thinking, problem solving, and defending arguments.” Having students create case studies, for example, is useful to make “students become adept not only at problem solving, but problem finding.”

Students who self-select into business majors seem to already be inclined towards entrepreneurial innovation, but there may be others who haven’t considered such a future. Mayhew says, “Outside the classroom, we found that students who had positive and enriching experiences with faculty and peers also demonstrated notably higher innovation intentions. We believe this speaks to a form of “networking” that perhaps goes beyond mere socialization to include exchanges of ideas out of class and faculty and peer support in converting newly generated ideas into action.” Building relationships with faculty and other mentors is applicable to all fields of study.

One unexpected finding by researchers had to do with GPA. Mayhew explains, “grade point average was negatively associated with innovation intentions, especially among the undergraduate samples of students we have studied — of course, this relationship is not causal, but nonetheless makes us question the value and utility of grade point averages as the penultimate measure of learning, especially as it relates to innovation.”

This research will be published in the May/June issue of The Journal of Higher Education. The good news is that students aren’t innovative or not, intrinsically. There are things that can be taught and ways to do it that can cultivate a perspective of entrepreneurialism.

Image//Flickr Creative Commons by Barry Solow

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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