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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Summer/Fall 2009

Go for the Bold: Building Effective Entrepreneurship Programs in Higher Education

Friday, September 18, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Ronald E. Thomas, Ph.D.


Dakota County Technical College, Rosemount, MN

Like hurricanes, recessions spawn hardship, fear, and misery wherever their titanic forces make land. No exception, the current recession has been historically brutal, blasting the national unemployment rate to 8.9 percent as of April 2009 with 5.7 million jobs annihilated since December 2007. With job options imploding, people are looking to become their own bosses, which has created a booming shift toward entrepreneurship.

Based in Kansas City, MO, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is the gold standard for nonprofits focused on improving the national landscape for entrepreneurs. Recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Bo Fishback, Kauffman’s vice president of entrepreneurship, reported that a new surge of businesses will be started by out-of-work people taking innovative paths to survival. "Necessity-driven entrepreneurship can be a powerful motivator,” Fishback said.

Higher education can make a massive difference by equipping future entrepreneurs with the skills and knowledge to find traction and flourish. The stakes could not be higher. A 2009 survey by the Kauffman Foundation indicates that any economic recovery depends on entrepreneurial expansion. The survey showed that firms five years old or younger were responsible for all net job growth in the U.S. from 1980 to 2005. A full 70 percent of registered voters believe that successful entrepreneurs are crucial to upending the recession. As educators, we have made some progress, but our work is just beginning.

According to a 2007 study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana, entrepreneurship education in America found a foothold in the early 1970s, targeting credit and noncredit students along with potential and existing small-business owners. Looking at roughly 1,200 technical and community colleges in the U.S., the survey discovered that 14 percent offered an associate degree in entrepreneurship with 19 percent offering a certificate. Fifty-five percent offered entrepreneurship as continuing education with 20 percent hosting a Small Business Development Center.

Dr. Carl M. Kuttler Jr., president of St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, FL., ranks entrepreneurship education at the top of his college’s list of priorities. Kuttler has built a strong reputation as an "entrepreneurial” president who works hard to establish partnerships with other colleges and universities, businesses both local and national, and government bodies.

"Entrepreneurship is the greatest stimulus for success,” he said. "An entrepreneurial spirit moves countries, states, local government, businesses, professional organizations and empowers leaders.”

College presidents seeking to launch business entrepreneur courses and programs need to fully understand what it means to be an entrepreneur. We should continue to reflect as academicians, but with our intellects invigorated by key entrepreneurial traits.

The term entrepreneur is rooted in the Old French word entreprendre, which means "to undertake.” That undertaking, or enterprise, carries an abstract meaning that dates back to 1475. To be enterprising then and now is to advance with a "spirit of daring” or "readiness to take on challenges.”

Keeping with that tradition, we must leverage our imaginations to think along new lines while countering inevitable problems in novel ways. We must constantly ask questions whose answers will give us the power to make informed decisions. Gains will be minimal if we are hobbled by a systematic dread of making mistakes.

Like all triumphant entrepreneurs, we must trust our intuition and steel ourselves with attitudes that are impenetrably positive. Staying tuned to the big picture, we should allow the best of our staff to handle day-to-day details. Balance is essential in planning our overall agendas as is tracking and comprehending high technology, which will be evolving at a blistering pace in the coming decade.

Effective entrepreneurial programs don’t just happen. Research, cooperation, and innovation at every level are essential for success. This checklist will prove useful for college presidents looking to take on the process.

• Make sure you have secured the 
wholehearted support of your 
administration, staff, and faculty.

• Work closely with area chambers 
of commerce and banks as well as 
local, county, and state governments 
to maximize your resource base.

• Assemble an influential, experienced, 
and knowledgeable advisory board; 
their input, guidance, and feedback 
will be indispensable.

• Hire top-notch faculty with drive and 
business savvy–preferably instructors 
with in-depth experience creating 
and running successful entrepreneurial 

• Formulate a flexible, student-friendly 
curriculum, creating modules that 
will attract students from across the 
gamut of age, experience, and cultural 

• Explore online combo programs that 
mesh convenient e-learning with vital 
face-to-face classroom time.

• Host a Small Business Development 
Center staffed by experts offering free 
business counseling.

• Energize and publicize your new 
program with a concerted marketing 
effort, marshaling the expertise 
and cooperation of area businesses, 
communities, and established 

• Follow up with a potent networking 
operation that connects your 
program and its students to leaders 
and organizations on local, regional, national, and global fronts.

• Stay cohesive and grow together; 
enduring bonds formed between 
faculty, students, alumni, area 
businesses, and the community are 
the hallmarks of the best and brightest 

Dr. Susan A. May, president of Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, WI, understands the process of establishing a relevant and effective entrepreneurship program. Her college’s own program is considered one of the best in the nation. "Today’s community and technical college presidents really need to lead and engage entrepreneurial efforts in two critical arenas,” May said. "First, by providing prospective entrepreneurs and small businesses the education and training, support services, and networking they will need to be successful. And secondly, by creating and supporting an entrepreneurial culture within the college itself, which can make a tremendous difference in an organization’s ability to truly thrive and grow.”

Looking to the immediate future, we can already see that assistance for small businesses is on the way. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes loan fee reductions, higher guarantees, secondary market incentives, and new Small Business Administration programs that will help thaw credit markets for the country’s small business sector.

The Obama administration believes that "economic recovery will be driven in large part by America’s small businesses.” The facts are clear: small companies have created 70 percent of net new jobs annually over the last ten years—and jobs form the bedrock of any viable economy.

We’ve all heard the words: Fortune favors the bold. Based on a Latin proverb going back to the Roman playwright Terence, the phrase promises that Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck, will always be inclined to help people who enhance their skill sets proactively and take risks to improve their situations.

Our mission as educators is to deliver the tools and knowledge needed for entrepreneurs and small-business owners to find their own fortune and, in turn, reawaken and embolden the American dream. Our success, by and large, will depend on the strength of our own entrepreneurial spirit.

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