Phi Beta Cons

Teaching Entrepreneurship in College

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a timely debate, “Can Entrepreneurship be taught?”

On the pro side, Noam Wasserman of Harvard asserts that classrooms can (1) teach skills necessary for success in entrepreneurial ventures and (2) present cases of success and failure for students to study. On the con side, Victor Hwang of T2 Venture Capital states that real-life is the best teacher; nothing in the controlled environment of the classrom can simulate it.


Teaching entrepreneurship in business schools is apt to fall victim to what Henry Mintzberg calls “educating the wrong people at the wrong time.” If classes in entrepreneurship consisted solely “practicing entrepreneurs,” then the classes could act as valuable coaching sessions.


But that is not the case. Entrepreneurship classes are another item on the menu with the same credit hours as Basket Weaving 101.


Hence, what you see today are courses about entrepreneurship. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but if a course is built around that mission, then the gainful-employment argument forces them to justify their existence — i.e., why have classes in entrepreneurship if the goal isn’t to create better entrepreneurs?


A parallel to this debate that will connect with a wider audience occurs if we change entrepreneurship to parenting. Think about a debate on “Should parenting be taught? Will (not can) the classroom create better parents?” Stop laughing. 


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