Entrepreneurs make things happen by filling a niche in the marketplace. Edward Stringham wants to fill a niche by creating more entrepreneurs.
Stringham, a professor at Fayetteville State University, noticed an absence of professors trained in the principles of entrepreneurship. There appears to be just one other program in the University of North Carolina system with a terminal degree in entrepreneurship, and it is a narrow one. UNC-Chapel Hill offers a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in strategy and entrepreneurship. It seems to emphasize management strategy courses rather than provide a broad consideration of the environment that spawns entrepreneurs.
While college entrepreneurship programs are proliferating rapidly, there isn’t a big pipeline of professors to teach them. To train Ph.D. students to teach such courses, Stringham is proposing a doctoral program at Fayetteville State. Stringham is a professor in the university’s business school, which would house the program.
To get the ball rolling, Stringham held a two-day seminar this month at Fayetteville State on how to create an “ideal” Ph.D. program in entrepreneurship. Seventeen people from around the country, many with long careers in academia and business, attended. Among the participants were Dwight Lee, economist at Southern Methodist University known for his essays defending markets; Theodore Malloch of Yale University, co-author of Renewing American Culture: The Pursuit of Happiness (the basis of a PBS documentary); and Arthur Langer, academic director of an executive master’s program at Columbia University; to mention a few.
They grappled with such questions as whether the entrepreneurial mindset can be taught at all (or is it something you are born with?) and the extent a Ph.D. program in entrepreneurship should include discussion of larger issues, such as the morality of capitalism and the kind of environment that fosters entrepreneurship.
The discussions kicked off with a series of readings ranging from popular media articles to in-depth academic research. For example, one reading was a response by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, to economist Milton Friedman’s claim that the social responsibility of business is to make a profit. Mackey says that his company serves employees and the community, not just shareholders; on the other hand, he doesn’t differ clearly from Friedman because those efforts have contributed heartily to Whole Foods’ profits.
Two of the readings discussed the market for professors of entrepreneurship. In 2003, a task force of the Academy of Management cited “growing demand for faculty in entrepreneurship,“ and a 2012 survey by a Gonzaga University professor Todd Finkle found that demand for them remains high. He reported that the number of positions advertised for entrepreneurship faculty around the world in the academic year 2010-11 was 283, while there were only 213 candidates — that is, fewer applicants than jobs. In contrast, history departments often have more than 80 job applicants for each available position.
Based on these documents, one participant urged Stringham to move forward with the program, saying, “If you don’t do it, someone else will.” Using business-savvy lingo, another said, “If you’re not growing, you’re going.”
The odds of establishing a successful program in the UNC system are uncertain. On the one hand, administrators worry that a new doctoral program in entrepreneurship would overlap too much with existing business programs, or that it wouldn’t attract enough students.
On the other, the dean of the Fayetteville State business school, Assad Tavakoli, believes substantial sources of income, ranging from gifts to foreign-student tuition, could be tapped to support this program. Successful entrepreneurs often have given money to entrepreneurship programs, and this one would emphasize the environment in which dynamic competition can operate.
Whatever its chances of success, the process of developing a Ph.D. program at Fayetteville State has begun.
Jane S. Shaw is president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.