New VSB curriculum prompts praise, backlash within Bartley



Daina Amorosano & Kelsey Ruane

As the first students enrolled in the new curriculum of the School of Business finish their sophomore year, they are experiencing the rigor of a program that is ranked in the top tier of undergraduate business programs nationwide.

When Dean James Danko arrived at VSB in July 2005, the curriculum had not been restructured in 12 years.

“It was definitely a program in need of an upgrade,” said Danko, who has been involved in curricular redesign and advancing the status of business programs at Dartmouth, University of Michigan and UNC Chapel Hill.

In his quest to improve VSB’s reputation and better prepare students for today’s complex business world, Danko and his team sought solutions to problems they saw with the curriculum, such as the need for an introduction to business class for freshmen, an updated technology course and a stronger connection between theory and practice through the addition of integrated courses.

“Students were thrust into VSB classes,” said Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Melinda German, describing the previous lack of an introductory business course. “They’d take accounting without context for it.”

Designed by faculty from every business discipline, the year-long, two-part Business Dynamics course is intended to provide a context for the entire business learning experience.

“We were able to get a taste of different areas of the business world,” sophomore Tom Garry said of the Business Dynamics course he took last year.

Sophomore accounting major Ron Dukes said he appreciated the way Business Dynamics provided a well-rounded study of the business world.

“The only down side was that we went over things on a basic level, so the challenge wasn’t really there,” he said. “Business Dynamics seemed like busy work.”

After taking Business Dynamics freshman year, the VSB class of 2012 met with two new highly integrated courses their sophomore year. Both are six-credit, team-taught courses. In the fall, sophomores took either the Financial Management & Reporting course or the Competitive Effectiveness course, and enrolled in the counterpart this semester.

The Financial Accounting course, previously taken in freshman year, and the Principles of Finance course, taken during sophomore year, have been combined to form Financial Management & Reporting, while the old sophomore courses Management Essentials and Marketing Principles have been merged to create Competitive Effectiveness. 

“The intention there was to put together disciplines that needed to be better integrated from a real-world perspective,” Danko said. “This has gone a far way in differentiating Villanova as an innovative business school.”

The Competitive Effectiveness course has been well-received by students, according to German.

“I loved that [Competitive Effectiveness] class,” said sophomore marketing major Carolyn Ruth. “I learned a lot about marketing and management, and the project in that class was really effective. It helped me learn the information in a hands-on way.”

Although both Danko and German acknowledge that the integration of finance and accounting is more complex for students than the combination of marketing and management, the decision to combine the disciplines into the single FM&R course was strengthened by Danko’s outreach to accounting firms, many of which felt that students do not have a strong grasp of the integration of financial information. 

Paul Martucci, a 2009 graduate, is now an employee at the accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

“Honestly, when I was in the old VSB curriculum, I didn’t think it was terribly flawed,” Martucci wrote in an e-mail. “In relation to my current job in accounting, I can say with tremendous confidence that the accounting principles classes provided a sturdy foundation.  I still apply the fundamentals I learned in my first accounting classes at my job.” 

FM&R professor Michael Peters’ background includes academic and work experience in both accounting and finance.

“Too often academia put an impenetrable wall between accounting and finance,” he wrote in an e-mail. “As a result, students completed the beginning accounting and finance sequence without getting a clear picture about how these two disciplines interrelate and build on each other. This wall continued in their later courses. The beauty of the integrated course is now they begin to learn these links at the ground level and can take that knowledge with them to their later classes, interviews, internships, etc.”

The question is whether the FM&R course has successfully integrated the material in its first-semester run.

“The workload was basically two classes in one time slot – two textbooks, two separate homework assignments – double the amount of work,” sophomore marketing major Kimberly Fea said. “I don’t know why it’s one class if everything is so separate. It needs to be more integrated.”

Sophomore marketing major Carolyn Ruth echoed Fea’s sentiments.

“The way that the professors teach isn’t really intertwined, so why combine them?” she said.

Like Competitive Effectiveness, FM&R entails the credit weight and workload of two classes.

 “I’m not sure that students understood that from the beginning and were prepared for it,” German said.

Sophomore Deidra DeAngelis knew to expect more from FM&R, since it was a six-credit class, but still struggled.

“It [FM&R] was all I focused on,” she said. “When I had FM&R, theology sort of took a backseat.”

“I would suggest that students pick their additional courses carefully when they take this course so they can devote the necessary time to ensure they are prepared,” Peters wrote.

In addition to the credit weight of the class, the transition from a survey course like Business Dynamics to a detail-oriented course like FM&R was a challenge for some students.

“If the curriculum for Business Dynamics was supposed to give us a small taste of the business world, then it succeeded,” Garry said. “But if the goal was to prepare us for FM&R, then it failed.”

“Business Dynamics was completely different from FM&R, so I felt like we started from scratch,” said sophomore finance major Joe Kelly. “Business Dynamics could segue to Competitive Effectiveness because there are some similar topics, but FM&R stands on its own.”

German and Danko acknowledge that some students had a difficult time with the FM&R course.

“Finance and accounting have always been the hurdles,” German said. “The faculty feels there was a small percentage that struggled just as they have historically. The noise was diluted when the classes were separate. While I have received complaints about the FM&R class, I have not received any more complaints this year than in any other year for this type of class.”

“As far as implementing such dramatic changes, if we don’t hear a certain amount of noise, we’re probably not doing something right,” Danko said.

DeAngelis also considered the newness of the courses.

 “That we [sophomores] are the guinea pigs does explain why it was more difficult for us than it will be in the future once they figure out how to better incorporate finance and accounting,” she said. “I’m relieved that I got both accounting and finance done at once, but they need to integrate them better.”

Some students felt that the team-teaching in their FM&R classes enhanced their learning experience.

“I really did like the fact that there were two professors,” Dukes said. “They played off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“My professors taught classes together before, so they worked well together,” said sophomore marketing and international business major Alexandra Huss.

Peters, who team-taught with Victoria McWilliams last semester and again this semester, said he enjoyed it tremendously, but stressed the amount of preparation that comes with teaching an FM&R course with another professor.

“I spent far more time preparing for this class than in years past,” he wrote. “It was not uncommon for me to be up until 2 a.m. preparing my lectures for class the next day.”

Positive reactions are not universal, perhaps due to the different pairs of professors in each section.

“In my experience, each teacher in my FM&R class seemed to have different views on the course and how it should be taught,” Garry said. “These differences were evident in their teaching methods and made it rather difficult to switch either from class to class or within a class between the two styles.”

Danko named the pairing of teachers as one of the implementation issues brought to light in the second year of the new curriculum.

“It takes a little bit of time for people to calibrate to each other,” Danko said. “I expect that the chemistry [between professors] and making sure we put the right people together will be something we’ll have to monitor.”

German stressed that all students accepted to VSB can succeed in all of their courses, and while professors will continually improve their courses, no adjustments are currently planned to the curriculum itself.

“My grade in this course [FM&R] was by far the lowest I have ever received, and I have a hard time believing that I was just unable to grasp the concept of accounting and finance,” Garry said.

Danko stands firm in endorsing the radical changes to the curriculum which he spearheaded, stressing the importance of the school’s reputation and citing the doubling of applications to the business school, a 90-point increase in the mean SAT scores of VSB students and the opportunity for upgraded selectivity with regard to both students and faculty.

“It is our obligation as a professional school to have high expectations of our students and to raise the bar,” Danko said. “But it will pay off with their first jobs when they are sitting next to that new employee from Notre Dame or Georgetown.”

Greg Doyle and Meghan Farley contributed reporting to this article.