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Business program grows, Economics shrinks

The decrease in economics majors has made some faculty members question the Department of Business’ campus-wide impact. 

Dr. Benjamin Balak, associate professor of economics, saw a thriving Department of Economics prior to the revival of the Business Management Undergraduate Program. 

In 2011, two years prior to the change, the Economics Department awarded 75 degrees, around 12% of the total degrees at Rollins. By 2019, this had dropped to about 5% of total degrees. 

As of Fall 2019, about 180 students declared business management majors, which is over  30 percent of undergraduate degrees received. About 40 students declared economics majors, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

The existence of a business department at a top-liberal arts school like Rollins was greatly debated at the time of its reinstatement in 2013. 

Historically, Rollins has had a business undergraduate program on campus, but in 1980, President Thaddeus Seymour reduced the major to a minor. 

In 2013, President Lewis Duncan supervised the creation of the new business management major. This decision altered the typical idea of a liberal arts college.

Balak spoke to the unique opportunities available to students prior to the new business program, where a dual-major in economics and international business was common. With that undergrad program “on the transcript, I mean, those kids just went anywhere they wanted. So, it was extremely successful,” Balak said. 

On the other hand, the Department of Business considers itself to be a liberal arts flavored experience unique to Rollins business students. 

Dr. Timothy Pett, Department of Business chair, describes their department’s outlook as having an “in-depth understanding and appreciation for the liberal arts view of business.” 

The major requirements, in addition to core classes with economics, marketing, and finance concentrations, often include freedom to choose other classes of interest. 

Pett said, “We’re trying to develop global leaders, and even though Florida is a very diverse state, there’s still a difference when you’re in a global setting […] and that’s speaking to the liberal arts ideas.”

Some, like Balak, believe that the more interdisciplinary interaction and less division, the better. The liberal arts philosophy and personalization of one’s education attracts students and faculty to Rollins. 

“What we’re doing is precious,” he said. For smaller departments like economics, it is more difficult, in Balak’s opinion, to have enough staff and courses available to be cross-listed for more freedom among disciplines. This arguably hinders an open exchange of ideas and a path to self-discovery in Rollins students. 

However, Pett believes that the changes over the years have only enriched the campus. Despite claims that their class requirements hinder other departments and that their recruitment methods change the fabric of the campus, the Department of Business continues to have an open-minded approach toward its place at Rollins. 

Even if Rollins brings in more business major applications,  Pett said, “for the students that are maybe just thinking about it, they open their eyes to other opportunities on campus […]that’s what we can do here. It’s not so rigid, it’s not binary, it’s sort of fluid, depending on what they want to do. We don’t want to stifle creativity, we want to put oxygen on it.”

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