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How Can More Schools Award Credit for Entrepreneurial Student Activities?

Posted By: Daniel Barwick NACCE Blog ,

There is an opportunity for colleges to reward entrepreneurial student activities, yet few schools, if any, are taking advantage of a means to award credit, generate revenue, and provide students with a genuine and distinctive credential. One of the most significant missed recruiting and credentialing opportunities for higher ed is ongoing entrepreneurial activity by students.

Currently, there are many schools that offer credit for entrepreneurial activity. There are some obvious candidates: a traditional class in which either group or individual entrepreneurial projects are assigned as part of the class; and a directed study in which the student proposes an entrepreneurial project and works directly with a faculty member; a credit-bearing internship in which the student is working with an entrepreneur. (These are surprisingly rare, and the reasons for that are interesting and will be the subject of a later blog post.) But schools do use these methods to award credit to students. (There are some activities, like an entrepreneurial club, that is extracurricular and thus by definition is not normally a candidate for credit.)

Defining Entrepreneurial Activity

To a certain extent, the opportunities for credit will depend on the school’s interest in entrepreneurship (no surprise there), but also on the school’s definition of what constitutes entrepreneurial activity. Overwhelmingly, entrepreneurs are seen as individuals going into business for themselves, and in fact, are business people. I’ve argued in an earlier blog post that this conception has been detrimental to entrepreneurship education and to entrepreneurs themselves. The broader the definition, the more opportunities there will be for students to engage in activities that meet the definition. As I’ve argued in that earlier post, the narrowness of how most school’s define entrepreneurship is a real missed opportunity for those institutions.

Of the schools I canvassed for this blog, none specifically offer students credit for pre-existing and ongoing entrepreneurial activity, and none recruit students based on knowledge of their entrepreneurial activity.

A Case in Point

I will use a real-life example. Laura is a 19-year-old sophomore at a large midwestern university, which stresses entrepreneurship, primarily in its business division. Laura is an art major. She is quite entrepreneurial: she places her paintings for sale on Internet art sites; she places the same paintings on Facebook for sale; she receives commissions for new artworks from people across the country; and she designs earrings for sale at a local store. She has to maintain a supply inventory of the raw materials that she uses for both the paintings and the jewelry, and she has to price her products appropriately. (Wholesale, in the case of items that are being re-sold in the store, and retail, in the case of items that she is selling directly to the consumer.) In other words, she is responsible for the design, production, marketing, packaging, pricing, and sale of her work. She also must constantly create new designs based on established market preferences from prior sales.

Laura’s college has an entrepreneurship program, an entrepreneurs' club, elaborate makerspaces, extensive corporate internship opportunities, and respected business programs. But there is no accommodation for an art major who seeks credit for engaging in such thoroughly entrepreneurial activity. And when Laura graduates and wants to put her art skills to work for a company, perhaps as a graphic designer, I think that company would be impressed to know about the work she’s doing. Of course, there’s nothing stopping Laura from describing this to a prospective employer, but credit on the transcript gives the work a credibility and a status that mere description will never achieve, and it could very well distinguish Laura from other applicants.

What is the obstacle for schools to give credit for this kind of activity? The primary issue is timeframe. Unless the student is asked to do a single element of the lifecycle of a business, product, or service, most of what student entrepreneurs are doing spans more than a quarter, a semester, or in some cases, even an academic year. (A second issue is instructor buy-in; the broader the type of activity that qualifies as entrepreneurial, the more varied would be the faculty needed to participate.)

But this problem is surmountable. Schools already break majors into components and offer classes about each on the assumption that once the various components have been completed, the entire major has been mastered. Schools could approach entrepreneurial activity the same way, and although in many cases they would need to give credit for work that has already been completed, this isn’t substantially different from the concept of transferring credit that has been completed at another school. The only real difference is that an appropriate academic would need to examine the work that was completed in the past. The school would still bill the student for the evaluation of the work, and so it wouldn’t be giving away credit for free, and presumably the school would continue to evaluate the work on an ongoing basis. (I would advocate that some of the entrepreneurial work would be done while at the school – I’m not advocating for some sort of credit solely for activities performed long ago.)


Thus far, I’ve been unable to locate a school that offers this type of credit. If you know of one, please reach out to me so that I can include that school in my research. My email address is danielbarwick@gmail.com. My goal is to persuade schools of two things: the value of recruiting students based on this kind of pre-existing activity, and the value for the student of receiving academic credit for distinctive and carefully-assessed learning activity.

Author

Dr. Daniel Barwick