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Enrollment declines, but business major still strong at BYU-Idaho

The campus of BYU-Idaho

The campus of BYU-Idaho

The two most popular majors at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg are teacher education and business, according to Advancement Vice President Henry Eyring. Chairman of the Department of Business Management Kent Lundin said, currently, more than 1,000 students are enrolled in his department.

But Lundin also stated he has seen a shift in focus and enrollment levels since 2009.

“It’s been growing all along, but has been shrinking over the past year, probably because of the recession,” Lundin said.

He speculated that the adverse view being taken of the business community overall – and of bankers and investors in particular – has probably turned at least some students away from the major.

“When the press and the public blame business people, that makes it hard,” he said.

Asked why a business major still retains appeal for a certain segment of the student population, Lundin replied there are any likely number of reasons, but said, “Many students go to college to make money and support a family and see business as a way to do that. … Everything has business involved.”

BYU-Idaho has long taught ethics – both business and general ethics – as part of its curriculum. “We’d like to be known all along as people who are ethical and honest,” Lundin said. “But we do use current examples to teach what happens when you don’t adhere to a set of business values. If people already don’t trust business people, you don’t want to make it worse.”

Leadership skills are taught across the board at BYU-Idaho.

“We really talk about leadership here,” said Eyring, who explained the school uses what it calls a Student Leadership Model. As an example, he said, in the university’s athletic program students can go from team co-captain to coach to league commissioner.

He called it “a progression of leadership responsibilities” and said it is utilized in classrooms, as well as service and other programs throughout campus.

“We are engaging students as active participants. It’s not unique to us, but it’s rare in undergraduate classes,” Eyring said.

Students are given a leadership transcript in the same way they are given class grade transcripts.

In the business program, students get hands-on experience by starting their own enterprises. “We let them run businesses,” Lundin said. “At most schools, you read about business. We make them actually put into practice what they’re learning – real leadership has to take place.”

Over the years, students have launched a variety of businesses. “Some people think they’re lemonade stands, but they’re bigger than that,” Lundin said.

Students have set up food stands selling unique items they’ve tried while serving LDS missions in other countries; they sell products such as BYU-Idaho flags; or they offer services such as trash pick-up.

“They do well at thinking of things,” Lundin said, especially the kinds of things well suited to the student population.

BYU-Idaho offers no graduate degrees but, according to the department chair, roughly 20 percent of its business students go on to graduate school at other institutions.

Lundin said efforts are made to make the BYU-Idaho business major much like a mid-level MBA program. “That’s our attempt,” he said.

“What distinguishes the university is we are really trying hard to say, ‘How can we do things differently?’ We experiment with learning and teaching,” he said.

It all requires participation and flexibility from the department’s 18 faculty members.

The department’s student enrollees are all required to have minors – or what the school calls “clusters” – in some other academic area, such as agriculture or medicine.

“We want to graduate business people with a little more integrated knowledge of other things on campus,” Lundin said.

About Gaye Bunderson