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Study finds entrepreneurship nearly entirely absent from early economics ed

Mon, 04/02/2012

Barbara Phipps


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LAWRENCE — Imagine seeing a production of “Hamlet” in which the prince of Denmark never makes an appearance. Or catching the latest “Twilight” installment in the theater only to find no vampires ever show up. A University of Kansas professor has published a study arguing this is, in essence, what is happening in beginning college economics education. The entrepreneur, a leading player in the economy, is almost entirely absent in most entry-level economics textbooks.

Barbara Phipps, associate professor of curriculum and teaching, has published “Principles of Economics Without the Prince of Denmark” in the Journal of Economic Education with co-authors Robert J. Strom of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and William J. Baumol of the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University. The authors examined about 15 of the nation’s leading beginning college economics textbooks. Surprisingly, they found only three had more than a passing mention of the entrepreneur, and some of them did not mention it at all. They then did a further analysis of the three books with the most extensive coverage of entrepreneurship.

“The three books we analyzed did a pretty good job of addressing the entrepreneur,” Phipps said. “They could do better. We feel it’s really critical right now to give students a full understanding of the entrepreneur and the role they play in the economy.”

It is especially important for students to learn about entrepreneurship for several reasons, Phipps said. Namely, some of the most important innovations in American economic history have come from people working on their own, not established companies. Steve Jobs building personal computers in his garage is but one example. Also, as technology continues to evolve, the demand for human labor is declining, making specialized knowledge and entrepreneurs even more important in creating new jobs.

“For many students, the only economics course they ever take is that first one,” Phipps said. “For that reason it’s important they get a full picture. Evidence shows that the entrepreneur is a key driving force in a dynamic, growing economy.”

Business schools and even fine arts schools are doing a better job of teaching students not only what an entrepreneur is, but also their role in the economy and how they can be entrepreneurial in their own careers. The reason entrepreneurship has been largely left out of introductory economic textbooks does have a plausible explanation, the authors claim, namely because the number of people who fit the description and what they do is very difficult to measure. However, there is growing research about the concept of entrepreneurship that could be a foundation for future texts, they say.

Phipps, Baumol and Strom include examples of how the three textbooks with the most words devoted to entrepreneurship address the idea and suggest the work as a basis for future texts.

“Surely there is no excuse for continued neglect of a topic as vital as the microanalysis of economic growth,” the authors write. “Growth and the benefits that it alone can promise are surely among the most important economic issues for the general welfare. With severe poverty far from eradicated, we surely cannot justify neglect of any opportunity to address this problem. That is, we cannot ignore analysis of the determinants of economic growth that alone can provide the wherewithal for amelioration of these circumstances. Surely this topic merits some priority in our introductory texts and courses.”

Phipps and her co-authors will continue their research this summer at the American Economics Association Annual Conference on Teaching Economics and Research in Economic Education. They will hold a panel discussion with noted economics textbook authors to address the importance of including entrepreneurship in introductory texts.

“We may not be able to increase the number of students who take economics, but at least we can give them a clearer picture of the vital role of the entrepreneur,” Phipps said.



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