Quick question about business majors


At our college, and at quite a few others I know, the business majors are required to take calculus. Not just people majoring in economics, which can be a highly theoretical and mathematically intense field — but also general business, accounting, etc.

My question is simply: Why? What’s the rationale for having general business majors take calculus? I have ideas of my own, but I’d like to hear from others.

(Note: We’re a small enough school that we only have one flavor of calculus, so the general business folks are in with the science and math majors.)

24 Comments

Filed under Calculus, Education, Higher ed, Math

24 responses to “Quick question about business majors

  1. Just another liberal professor

    Well, don’t business majors have to take some economics courses?

  2. Yes, but none of the econ courses they are required to take have calculus as a prerequisite.

  3. Myrtle

    If I were a liberal arts major at your school and placed out of algebra and trig, what math courses would be available to me to fulfill the math requirement? Back when I was in college the only option was Calculus.

  4. Myrtle: We have two options — calculus, and a “liberal arts math” course that touches on statistics, financial math, logic, probability, and a tiny bit of game theory. The math, science, and business majors have to take calculus; everybody else gets a choice of the two.

    But to be clear — calculus is required of the business major, but none of the required bus/econ courses in that major have calculus as a prereq.

  5. Just another liberal professor

    That’s strange…every university that I’ve been at has at least one economics course required of business majors that required calculus (albeit the fakey, no-trig, watered down version of calculus).

  6. Myrtle

    Robert,

    Is that “liberal arts math” is mathematics for the social sciences?

    So say I wanted the intellectual benefits of mathematics as part of the “artes liberales” which traditionally came from doing proofs a la Euclid, there wouldn’t be a single class available to me until after I have slogged through three semesters of mathematics for scientists and engineers which have none of those intellectual benefits. So, there is no Euclidean geometry for liberal arts majors or something like Number Theory, there is just a hodgepodge of purely technical computational details of utilitarian applications in other fields.

  7. Liz

    two points:

    1. I had to take calculus as part of the requirements for MBA. I never really understood why, just marched along. The two semesters of statistics, yes, important to understanding all kinds of research.

    2. Pet peeve: undergraduate business majors. Sheesh. Why not undergraduate degrees in car salesmanship?

  8. At Kelley, students have to take either calculus or finite math as a prerequisite for all business courses. The finite math is far more useful and applicable — the calculus, however much I may love calculus — has very little application to the stats and analysis they’ll be doing. The finite math course covers probability, and better prepares them. As far as math applications in business, econ is only a small part, unless of course you go into business econ. Kelley maintains its own econ department distinct from the university department (I’ll give you three guesses why, and the first two don’t count).

    The calculus or finite requirement, by the way, is a UNIVERSITY requirement, not a business school requirement.

    “Pet peeve: undergraduate business majors. Sheesh. Why not undergraduate degrees in car salesmanship?”

    You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, are you?

  9. virusdoc

    while you’re at it, I’ll repeat my question from months ago: why was I (a biology major who went on to be a PhD biologist) required to take calculus? I’ve never used it in 14 years of science. Algebra is as complex as it gets for me. One variable, no more. An occasional exponent thrown in to keep things interesting, and every once in awhile I need to figure the area of a circle or a square. This is the life of 99% of biologists and 100% of physicians, yet every undergrad in these areas is forced into 2+ semesters of calculus. Why?

  10. Doc, how typical would you say your situation is with regards to using math? Would you say that *most* professional biologists have roughly the same level/type of math use as yourself, or would the typical biologist use more? Or less? Or is there any such thing as “typical” in this sort of thing?

    Obviously there is a lot of quantitative stuff happening when you’re a natural scientist, but as far as why calculus, I’m honestly not sure — although there are some lines of reasoning in favor of calculus.

  11. Just another liberal professor

    “This is the life of 99% of biologists and 100% of physicians..”

    I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I keep hearing the mathematical fashionistas touting the praises of mathematical biology.

  12. virusdoc

    There is a developing discipline of bioinformatics that is much more heavily involved in math and computer programming. However, most of the leaders in this field actually have computer science degrees and very little biological training. There is also a very small subset of classically trained biologists who are starting to design mathematical/computer-based models of exceedingly complex biological systems.

    But I think I can speak very confidently for the biomedical cell biology field (the vast majority of what the NIH funds falls into this category) and almost all clinicians when I say we use nothing more complex than algebra. Our disciplines deal mostly with biochemical phenomenon which we tend to isolate with a single experimental variable and then study over time. Most of the math we do involves either generating a reagent (calculating concentrations such as molarity or molecular weight) or simple statistics (parametric and nonparametric analyses, mostly automated by the software we use for data analysis).

  13. coderprof

    Some areas of ecology use not only calculus, but differential equations. I’m not suggesting that ecology is any more representative of “biology” than cell biology, but there are areas that use it.

    Additionally, I am convinced that math does help train an analytical mind. Computer Science majors don’t really use much calculus either (much more probability, discrete math, and linear algebra, and modern algebra in some specialties), but most programs require it.

  14. virusdoc

    Yes, I can imagine the environmental biologists would have need for more complex math than experimental biologists.

    The question I’m putting forth is this, though: since the areas of biology that do use complex math are fairly specialized, doesn’t it make sense to equip undergrad biology majors with the math skills that are more central to the discipline (algebra, quantitative reasoning, statistics, scientific notation) and let grad programs do the specialized stuff?

    Most of the grad students I’ve worked with thus far (admittedly a small number, 5 over the past three months) have all had two semesters of calculus, but they struggle with figuring out how many grams per liter of a substance you use to make a 100 micromolar stock, or how to convert from nanograms/ml to picograms/microliter. I would much rather they had mastered these simple mathematical conversions and single variable algebra than be able to do a derivative. The fact of the matter is they are all poorly equipped to know how to use either algebra or calculus in a real life situation, so I think the solution isn’t more math content, it’s more quantitative reasoning training applied to less content.

  15. coderprof

    That’s an interesting question. Nobody offers calculus (I’m talking Calc I rather than real analysis) as a graduate offering, yet grad programs do offer certain courses that could otherwise be undergraduate courses. For example, many graduate Biology programs do offer Biostatistics or Biometry. Many graduate (non-CS) IT programs do offer some form of intro to programming.

    I get the feeling that many undergraduate business programs require calculus, in part, because MBA programs often make it a pre-req. But if it’s important to the MBA program, maybe it should be taught there, just like they teach their own statistics.

  16. Just another liberal professor

    ” Nobody offers calculus (I’m talking Calc I rather than real analysis) as a graduate offering”

    Correct, because calculus is not a graduate level course. It’s an undergraduate course.

  17. virusdoc

    JALP: stating a historical fact isn’t the same thing as justifying its continuation in the future…

  18. Just another liberal professor

    “JALP: stating a historical fact isn’t the same thing as justifying its continuation in the future… ”

    Yes, but there are such things as standards. If we give graduate credit for calculus, then what’s next? Allowing undergraduates to obtain credit for remedial math courses?

    Utterly proposterous.

  19. Just another liberal professor

    Just to clarify, I have no problem with graduate students taking calculus or sitting in on a calculus course. I just don’t think they should obtain graduate credit for it.

    At my alma mater, incoming graduate students in the math program with weak backgrounds were required to take, for no graduate credit, the “intro to proofs” course and pass it with a B or higher before moving on. Why couldn’t a similar policy be made for a department with graduate students needing to fortify their calculus background?

  20. Our business department requires its majors to take calculus-based statistics.

    I think that our watered down “business calc” is really just a test of algebra skills and dedication. If you can’t earn a C or better in our business calc course, then you are not ready to study business. Keeps out the riff-raff.

  21. coderprof

    “Correct, because calculus is not a graduate level course. It’s an undergraduate course.”

    Agreed, but there are graduate IT programs (geared largely to business types, rather than computer scientists) that essentially offer intro to programming as a graduate course. A whole bunch of graduate programs in all fields offer some sorts of stats course as a graduate offering. This is, in part, designed to get people ready to do the stats required for their dissertations. But none of these are really “graduate-level” courses, at least how the Math and CS departments would define “graduate-level”. It seems somewhat arbitrary to require deficient graduate students to take some courses as remedial (calculus), while offering other courses (stats) as graduate courses.

    I’m actually firmly on the side of requiring undergraduate business (and CS an IT) majors to take calculus. Calculus may not be 100% applicable to their fields, but a 4-year college degree should be more than a vo-tech degree.

  22. Just another liberal professor

    “Agreed, but there are graduate IT programs (geared largely to business types, rather than computer scientists) that essentially offer intro to programming as a graduate course. A whole bunch of graduate programs in all fields offer some sorts of stats course as a graduate offering.”

    Yes, that’s indeed unfortunate.

    “It seems somewhat arbitrary to require deficient graduate students to take some courses as remedial (calculus), while offering other courses (stats) as graduate courses.”

    Well, consistency would be achieved if all such courses were treated as remedial (at the graduate level).

    At the university where I work, there is a graduate level “calculus for secondary school teachers” course on the books. However, no one currently in the department has ever taught it, and I would absolutely refuse to teach it as a matter of principle.

    Giving graduate credit for large chunks of undergraduate courses denigrates, in my opinion, the value of graduate degrees and bachelor’s degrees. If someone going after an M.S. can do most of their coursework doing undergraduate level work, then what’s the point of the M.S.? Why not just do away with the bachelor’s degree altogether and have folks go from a high school diploma to an M.S. in ~4 years?

  23. virusdoc

    We’re in the process of completely revising the college of science curriculum here at Purdue, and this very issue is currently being discussed among the biology faculty: what math (or language, or _____) requirements should we place on our majors? Purdue has no university requirements whatsoever, so the question is left entirely to the departments. Several of the comments above (and similar ones flying about at faculty meetings here) seem to go along the philosophical line that “we’ve always done it this way, so we must continue to do it this way for consistency.” I think that attitude ignores the fact that the state of human knowledge (and perhaps more importantly the way humans access that knowledge), the economic and job prospects in the US, and the educational preparation level of undergrads and grad students have all changed dramatically since our current curricular system was devised. Just because a group of well intentioned faculty thought this made sense 40 years ago doesn’t mean it still makes sense, and it’s certainly no reason to keep using a system that shows signs of inadequacy.

    I’m not making any specific suggestions about how math curricula should be redesigned (although by my recommendations for our biology curriculum I will be promoting my perspective and thereby requiring students to vote with their credit hours, which will ultimately influence the economics of the math department). But I do think individuals who make such decisions should approach the problem in a forward-looking pragmatic manner, unfettered by the way things were done when they went to school.

  24. That’s exactly my point, doc. It’s really quite a serious decision to require a course of a major, and faculty and admins have to approach that decision with a certain degree of intentionality. I think sometimes we just require courses for the heck of it, or because it sort of sounds like a good idea, or because “that’s the way I did it”. In my dealings with curriculum development, it’s not often you hear people really think carefully about the rationale behind course requirements; more often the mindset is that the more requirements they can get away with, the better. Just having objective criteria that courses must meet in order to be required is a big step in the right direction of actually thinking before making that decision.