2 Federal Agencies Want Students To Learn To Run Businesses,
Instead of simply teaching students to be good employees, officials at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) are considering a pilot program to convince local school systems that they should also teach students how to become successful employers.
The pilot program, which is currently under discussion for about five states, would be designed to encourage "entrepreneurial education" among students, according to Kenneth B. Hoyt of ED's office of career education."The primary objective of the program would be to encourage students to start their own business."
As part of its statutory mandate, the SBA is required to examine "entrepreneurship," and over the years the agency has collected information that it feels could be useful to local educators and important to the nation's economic welfare, according to Gerald L. Feigen of SBA's office of advocacy.
"There's so much going on in the area [of entrepreneurial education]," he said. "All we're trying to do is let them know there's information available."
Mr. Feigen said the SBA does not have the money to support state and local programs but the agency would be willing to serve "as an information base for local school systems, but it's going to be up to the states." But he suggested that funding for such a program in the schools may be more readily available under the education block grants.
However, although they have much general information on starting and maintain-ing businesses, SBA officials readily concede that it is probably not in a form that schools would find useful.
According to a paper prepared last fall that was the result of research sponsored by the SBA and conducted by Calvin A. Kent, director of the Center for Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Baylor University, the portrayal of entrepreneurship in existing materials "gives the student an artificial view that venture initiation is easy and the success almost automatic." The researcher also noted in the paper, which reported the results of a survey of the materials, that "there is not only a deficiency of materials in entrepreneurship education, there is also a deficiency of structure to serve as the basis of the development of those materials."
And unless a "comprehensive evaluation of what should and can be effectively taught at each grade level" is undertaken, followed by a systematic approach to developing appropriate materials, the paper noted, entrepreneurial education "will continue not to be emphasized where it should be integrated into the school curriculum."
Those findings were supported by Mr. Feigen, who said the absence of a formal entrepreneurial-education program in the schools is the "root of a lot of problems we're seeing" among small businesses. "It's a means of providing students with an option if they want it," he said. "But now, they are not given a chance. If students were given a choice at an earlier stage [of their education], there would be less of [a] chance for failure."
The SBA's investigation into entrepreneurial education was applauded by Elizabeth Schwammberger, director of education for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, who coordinated an informational session on entrepreneurial education at the National Business Education Association conference held in Washington last month.
Ms. Schwammberger said that entrepreneurial education may be timely because students need to learn not just business skills, but also that a business is the result of "someone's risk-taking." She said today's student is a "victim of history," because unlike young people in previous generations, few have the opportunity to be involved in "the family business."
"You don't have hands-on access now," Ms. Schwammberger said. "So we need to incorporate entrepre-neurship as a structured part of the school curriculum."
But, according to Ms. Schwammberger, a variety of programs need to exist because you cannot come up with a national model."
According to Mr. Hoyt, an entrepreneurship curriculum in the schools could serve a need that is not being met by vocational education, which provides students with entry-level vocational skills. Entrepreneurial education could serve those students "who say they want to be entrepreneurs," he said.
"In part, it also has to do with expanding the options for women and minorities," whose experience with entrepreneurship is most limited, Mr. Hoyt said.