Carlson students ask for nonprofit major

by Amber Schadewald

An estimated 10 percent of Minnesota’s workforce is employed by nonprofit organizations, but undergraduate students do not currently have the option of majoring in the field.

A group of students at the Carlson School of Management are leading an initiative to make the option available for future students. The plan hasn’t been formally proposed to Carlson officials, but it is scheduled to be in late spring for consideration for fall classes.

Carlson, in collaboration with the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, currently offers a nonprofit management minor for undergraduate students and the possibility to design an individual major.

The Humphrey Institute also offers a graduate degree in nonprofit management and a certificate program through the School of Continuing Education.

Diana Schleisman and Eric Larsen are both students with self-designed nonprofit management majors, but they agreed it’s an option many students are either unfamiliar with or intimidated by.

“Designing your own major can be a lot of work and it’s confusing,” Schleisman said.

Larsen began playing with the idea of creating a nonprofit major since fall 2005, and initially Bob Ruekert, his adviser and the associate dean of undergraduate programs at Carlson, told him the idea was impossible; the school couldn’t afford to hire new staff or create new courses.

Undeterred, Larsen wrote up an official proposal this fall. The Student Association for Nonprofit Enterprise has been working with Larsen to raise awareness in the student body.

He said the addition of the nonprofit major wouldn’t require the school to hire any more teachers or even create new classes. Instead, it uses the resources already available to create a more structured version of the independent major now available.

Minnesota has 3,551 nonprofit employers in more than 5,000 locations across the state, according to the 2006 Minnesota Nonprofit Economy Report.

Christine Durand, communications and marketing director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, said that number has been steadily increasing.

Lisa Weitekamp, president of the Student Association for Nonprofit Enterprise and operations and international business junior, said Minnesota’s high number of nonprofits should be reason enough for Carlson to add the major.

“Not having programs like (nonprofit management) seems irresponsible,” she said. “It’s non-responsive to our community.”

Larsen said the next step in the process is building up a support system of students and faculty, who, he said, so far have been very encouraging.

If Carlson knows this is what the students and faculty want, he said, the administration would have a much harder time turning the idea down.

Curriculum changes in Carlson require a full faculty vote and Ruckert said there are many reasons why the faculty may not support the proposed major; many of which he said may not even directly be related to what the major is.

The key factor will be whether Carlson faculty believe the nonprofit minor is sufficient for students. He said he thought the addition of a nonprofit major is at least worthy of consideration.

Jay Kiedrowski, who teaches one of the two nonprofit courses offered through the Humphrey Institute, said the minor is perfect for the students who just want the minimum knowledge in management, but he understands why students are asking for more.

“If somebody wants to specialize in nonprofit management, they need more than five courses,” he said.

This spring, Ruckert said, the Carlson school will consider lots of changes to programs and conduct an overall evaluation of the entire curriculum, which could be beneficial for Larsen’s proposal.

Ruckert has been working with Larsen on the proposal, but said he’s not endorsing the idea, just assisting. He said this is the first time the idea of a nonprofit major has been formally proposed.

Sarah Trenda graduated from Carlson with a marketing degree in May 2004 and for the last year she’s been working at a Minneapolis nonprofit. She said she always had an interest in nonprofit organizations and would have appreciated the option of majoring in the field.

Trenda said she is happy with the education she received at Carlson, and not having more education specific to public sector management hasn’t hurt her in the job market, but it could’ve helped.

As for the graduate programs in nonprofit management, Schleisman said those programs are beneficial, but to only train students at a graduate level is insufficient.

There needs to be a good foundation to build that deeper knowledge upon and that’s the undergraduate experience, she said.

“It’s nice to have different levels of experience,” Schleisman said.

Larsen would like to see the major offered by fall 2007, but as Schleisman put it, “there’s only so much you can do to speed up the bureaucratic process.”