Writing and Other Communication Standards in Undergraduate Business Education: A Study of Current Program Requirements, Practices, and Trends

Article excerpt

In the last several years, communication faculty in business schools have feared that the International Association for Management Education's (AACSB) "50% rule," mandating that no more than half the courses for an undergraduate business degree can be taught in the business school itself, would eliminate their programs in the face of more powerful departments like finance, accounting, and marketing. Happily for the profession, the study discussed in this article suggests these fears are ungrounded. Business communication is thriving and is more likely than not to be a required core course in business schools. Specifically, the study examined current writing and communication standards in top-ranked undergraduate business schools. It aimed to identify existing practices, including the kinds of requirements in effect, the number of courses involved, the institutional home of these courses (whether in the business school or in a liberal arts department), and major skills stressed. This information is presented mainly in tabular form in this article. The discussion section identifies some trends that emerge from the study.


The study sample reflects the most recent, or rather only, ranking of the Top 50 undergraduate programs by U.S. News and World Report (1996) (available on the Web page: www4.usnews.com/usnews/edu/college/rankings/catl2spc.htm). Such rankings are, of course, a potentially flawed source that may ignore many excellent schools. But the ranking helps to identify benchmark institutions for curricular redesign because students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and the larger business community take rankings seriously. Tied scores mean that the sample actually includes 52 schools. All these schools are accredited by the AACSB, another important factor in determining a useful sample, and they also represent a good geographical mix.

My original focus on "writing" shifted to reflect the realities of professional management education, which often includes oral communication; so oral communication requirements are also noted. To further examine the 50 percent rule, I recorded the institutional home of the business communication courses and related that to lower-division (often in the liberal arts) and upper-division courses.

Official Web sites of the 52 institutions provided the information for my study, with follow-up verification by e-mail. While Web sites are not always up to date, they provided an excellent starting point for gathering policies as well as course listings and syllabi. I often had to work my way through much contradictory information. Some universities did not include current catalogues, usually the most reliable source for current standards, at all; some of those that did used infuriatingly slow formats that could not be downloaded or copied. Some schools designed their sites more for promotional and marketing purposes than as workplaces for students, faculty, and staff to gain and verify important information about major and degree requirements. Despite its problems, the Web was a much more reliable and efficient source than a print survey for answering specific research questions. When data seemed confusing or contradictory, I followed up with direct contact via e-mail (about half the schools). An added benefit of such follow-up was finding out which programs were undergoing curricular revision and in what direction. Some administrators (typically deans or program directors) were also pleased to learn what parts of their Web sites needed revision. In two cases, I never received an official school response, so I used data from the official sites (omissions or instances of incomplete data are noted in the tables) that portray information directed to public audiences.


Tables 1, 2, and 3 summarize the results of the study. Table 1 records lower-division requirements in writing and oral communication. Table 2, which summarizes the data on upper-division courses, arranges the data by the courses' institutional homes. …