About one year ago I sat in my first economics class at the University of California, Santa Barabara. I was filled with enthusiasm for learning, excited to begin classes after a long summer and surrounded by a Campbell Hall-full of equally excited economics pre-majors. Last Thursday I sat in my first economics class as an actual major, elated to learn and excited to begin classes after a long summer. The throngs of pre-majors had disappeared; only a small lecture hall of dedicated economics students—or at least those who maintained above an average 2.85 GPA throughout the major’s three prerequisite courses—remained.
The supposedly cutthroat nature of UCSB’s economics program leads many who pass through it to wonder why UCSB lacks a business major. Many economics majors would rather focus on business anyways, such critics claim, and a business major alternative could attract star students attracted to other schools because of their business programs.
UCSB already offers incredible business oriented learning opportunities for interested students. Economics majors can take Managerial Econ, Managerial Accounting, Law and Ethics, International Finance and Income Taxation this year; more business class look-a-likes are offered in other quarters. On GOLD, the course description for Income Taxation reads, “The basic theories, concepts, and general rules of federal income tax and their interrelationships with personal, business, and financial transactions.” Everything in that course description has obvious implications for business. Economics remains the focus because UCSB students learn more broadly applied economic theory rather than narrowly-focused business applications.
Options exist for non-economics students to engage in business. The Technology Management Program draws on the local business community to offer one credit courses at night in weekly business school-like lectures. TMP specifically focuses on “technology commercialization and teamwork,” according to the program’s website. UCSB’s career services offers students connections to internships ranging from small, local business to tech startup to giant corporation. Students disappointed by their performance in the major are not isolated from a prospective career in business.
Those that are successful economics majors from UCSB look forward to positive earnings prospects after graduation. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, UCSB’s average economic majors earn more than average economic majors nationwide, ranking well above average business majors.
Even with all this, there are some that still burn with desire to major in business at UCSB. The fact remains that offering a business major at UC Santa Barbara does not make economic sense. Business programs flourish under business schools that are extremely expensive to create. Kelly Bedard, chair of UCSB’s economics department, described the resources necessary for business schools in an interview with The Bottom Line. Repurposing a building or constructing a new one, maintaining conference facilities, attracting a qualified interdisciplinary faculty—business schools mix management, finance, accounting, human resources, social psychology and marketing, among others—and bringing leaders from among the business community to teach students are all necessary steps to construct a business program. Ultimately, the enormous price tag of those components inhibits the creation of a business major.
Dissatisfied students sometimes point to majors that UCSB carried until the late 2000s: business economics and business economics and accounting. The previous existence of those majors seems like a powerful argument that they can be reinstated. However, the business focused majors were essentially a sham. Bedard, who advocated for the removal of UCSB’s allegedly business oriented majors, described the business element as misleading. “There was no business in it. It was economics, and accounting. My argument is that we should have truth in advertising, and so we should call them what we are. We didn’t change the curriculum. We didn’t get rid of courses. We didn’t do any of those things. We actually just started calling things what they are.” Beyond the usual turnover of professors and the courses they are qualified to teach, UCSB’s economics program did not change in the aftermath of removing the business economics major.
The economics program at UCSB effectively prepares students for business anyways. Bedard described studying economics at UCSB as learning how to “think about taking the concepts and applying them to specific things.”
“The fundamentals of all you do in business schools like management, human resources, marketing, finance, and so on — with maybe the one exception of accounting, the foundation of all those is economics,” Bedard continued. All of the things economics focuses on—behavior, decision making, incentives—are relevant not only to business, but to any profession and many aspects of daily life. Economics majors at UCSB should take heart that their major is what they make of it.