Are b-school systems accommodating for entrepreneurship?

system_is_normalYou can disregard the underlying conclusions of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s book Manufacturing Consent. But you have to admire their ability to delineate between systems and conspiracies.

The media, from my layman perspective of Chomsky and Herman’s central point, is a business. Like any business, it operates to generate a profit. Anything that acts against that fundamental premise isn’t tolerated within its system. Like an ecosystem that works to destroy a threatening virus, stories that dissent against the media’s main drivers of profit (thus the elite that gain the most from its prosperity) simply aren’t tolerated.

Chomsky and Herman are saying that it’s simply a systems issue with the media: resources are funneled toward their prime purpose. It creates a set of filters that allow or disallow stories to be told. Again, disagree with their findings. But the idea that there isn’t a backroom group of people that make decisions based on political agendas is helpful when looking at governing systems in general.

Like any enterprise, business schools are governed by a system. We can split hairs about the exact nature of their system, but one thing is certain. For many business schools, rankings help define it.

Rankings create a set of criteria that business schools must pay attention to. They play an influential role in determining where a b-school’s scarce resources are funneled. I’ve played the rankings game as a marketing professional for a business school and I have no ax to grind with the process. I remain convinced that activities related to garnering a ranking aren’t altogether antithetical to an educational mission. Especially in a business school, where things like understanding customer needs, returning fair value, and demonstrating measurable results are taught as keystones for successful enterprise management.

But I’ve come to wonder about one very important ranking criteria, and if it helps define a system that is opposed to empowering success among students who wish to exit as entrepreneurs or free agents: Placement and salary data.

To one degree or another, all major b-school rankings factor exiting placement and salary data in their evaluations. For Forbes, it’s just about everything. For Business Week, it’s about 10% of the calculation. (Entrepreneur magazine is one obvious exception.)

So it reasonably follows that business schools place a strong emphasis on post-graduation placement of their students. Without a definable job, there’s no salary data. And the higher the average salary, the higher the ranking.

You could argue that a career services function is also a response to what most students want from their school in the first place. Which is true. But if serving students is the pure motivation behind these staffed services, you’d see equally resourced advice centers for going it on your own.

Which you don’t. Even Babson – the gold standard for entrepreneurship education – doesn’t seem to offer much beyond the typical career services. I could certainly be wrong, but research during my tenure as a marketing professional for a b-school didn’t turn up much differentiation.

I’d argue that up and down the decision chain, business schools allocate resources, design degrees, craft curriculum, and hire faculty and staff in service to helping their graduates get jobs. Measurable and definitive, high-paying J-O-B-S’s. And in my experience, rare is the person within the b-school halls forthcoming with advice to not be tempted by a steady paycheck. To start your own venture. To break out on your own and work as a free agent.

So I wonder to what degree a b-school’s system—in no small part defined by rankings—contributes to their inability to teach entrepreneurship. Is this important in the larger dialog? Is it as much, more, less a factor than Saras D. Sarasvathy‘s work on the inherent difficulties in delivering codified knowledge about something as contextual as entrepreneurship? More than the specific topics on which they focus? The inability of left-brain directed institutions to embrace the entrepreneur’s most critical strength: creativity?

I’ve shot a few emails out to some folks involved in this world to chime in—I hope we hear from them. What do you think?