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Department Programs

Economics and Business Department Writing Program

The Department of Economics and Business proposes that, for Accountancy, Business, Economics, and Group Majors, the integrated department-wide writing enriched program be substituted for the graduation requirement of two writing courses.

History of the Proposal
Departmental concern for developing effective written skills in its majors predates the work of the writing committee. The department's economists have been committed to substantial student writing for as far back as anyone can remember. They have always required essay exams and substantial papers in upper-level economics courses. Then, by the mid-1980s the department became aware, in part through its internship program, that employers were developing higher expectations of our graduates' writing skills. This began informal discussion and experimentation with business writing as a different form of communication. Somewhat later, our accounting faculty began to reevaluate the professional needs of our accounting graduates. Their profession continues to move further from technical bean-counting and closer to being the controllers and interpreters of financial information flows. Because of this the accounting faculty introduced more writing in accounting courses in the past couple years.

Two of our departmental faculty, Dick Karppinen (who teaches accounting and management) and Kurt Schaefer (who teaches economics), have attended the summer faculty development workshop on writing across the curriculum. The two of them along with Pete Vande Guchte (who teaches management and supervises all interns) have taught the W-courses that have been introduced into the department. Thus the department had a strong foundation on which to make its current proposal.

Finally, this year we arranged a special session of the department to ask what each of us was already doing in written communication skill development. When we tallied the results we were honestly amazed. The components of a strong writing program were already there. They had evolved through the individual initiatives of our faculty. Certainly we can continue to refine our efforts. However, we realized that in our department course-related writing was already a strategy to enhance student learning and prepare students for their future professions. We have accumulated substantial experience in the use and teaching of writing all of which prompts our current proposal.

Prompt review of this proposal is very important to us. The department has found that the designation of specific W-courses is not a workable strategy for us given the diversity of course selection patterns among our many majors. Therefore we have not given any of our courses a "W" designation for the fall 1994 term. We believe the proposal we are now presenting is a much more effective strategy for reaching departmental and college goals.
Rationale and Proposal Content

The current program offers an intensive and balanced writing-enriched program for students in all department majors. The course content of departmental majors is intentionally designed so that students develop and demonstrate writing skills appropriate to their disciplines, in addition to computer literacy, effective oral presentation techniques, and effective collaborative teamwork skills. With the exception of the two accounting courses and finance (which emphasize conceptional understanding and problem-solving), each of the required courses in the major contains more than the benchmark 25% of course work based on writing (on average, written work counts for more than 80% of the grade in these courses). Many courses require revision of papers, or submission of written projects in stages with appropriate feedback.

With the current approach to department-wide writing requirements, we can provide a mixture of written work, oral presentations, computer skills, and group work pedagogically appropriate for each individual course. Thus, in the problem-intensive accounting and finance courses an average 20% of the grade is based on writing components addressing, the special communication needs in those fields; whereas, management courses emphasize team reports and oral presentations in addition to traditional business communications and case analyses. (The writing component, with appropriate opportunities or requirements for revisions, is 75% of the course grade.)

Department-wide writing requirements provide better guidance and motivation for building, the best academic program for an individual student; some students may inappropriately select or avoid writing courses per se. Furthermore, we avoid unintentionally forcing students to choose courses on the basis of graduation requirements rather than appropriateness for their major or concentration and for their career objectives.

There is no one upper-level course required of all students in our majors. We recognize that we could meet the writing-course requirement by modifying all sections of Econ 221 or 222 (the only courses required of all department majors), but we have several concerns:

  1. These courses are normally taken by sophomores, who have very limited experience in their major;
  2. Students already find these courses very demanding;
  3. The writing/revision sequence is not the best pedagogy for many students in these courses.

Therefore, we do not think that converting Econ 221 or 222 to W courses is an appropriate strategy for enhancing written communication skills.

Instead, we propose the following integrated, department-wide writing program, which largely reflects our current practice:

The writing-enriched program:
The following description provides a summary of the current writing requirements throughout our department (with written work as a percent of the course grade):

Majors in accountancy, economics, and business:
Required of the three majors:

  1. Econ 221 (microeconomics) [two essay midterms and an essay final (90% of course grade)].
  2. Econ 222 (macroeconomics) (two essay midterms and an essay final (90% of course grade)].
  3. And a third economics course from:
    Econ 323 (intermediate micro) [three essay exams, essay final, written analysis of computer simulations (entire grade)],
    Econ 324 (intermediate macro) [two exams (70% essay), five written assignments (several pages), 5 page paper (based on 24 one page journal entries],
    Econ 325 (managerial) [two essay exams, essay final, written analysis of computer simulations, five 1-page article reviews, 8-page term paper (entire grade)],
    Econ 326 (forecasting) [five 5-page group assignments on computer simulations and forecasting assignments].
  4. A fourth economics course from:
    Econ 323-326, or Econ 331-343 [each requires essay midterms, an essay final, and a library or applied research paper (These papers are 8-19 pp. with outlines and draft receiving formal comments from the professor during writing conferences and/or written feedback, all of which lead to paper revisions before the final submission.) (entire grade)].

Economics majors:
In addition to four economics courses listed above, four additional economics courses, including three from those listed above, plus:
Econ 395 (seminar) [twenty 1-page review articles, and a three stage paper (20 pages total with peer reviews at each stage) (entire grade)].

Business majors:
In addition to the four economics courses required of department majors, the following courses are required:

  1. Bus 203 (managerial accounting) [two 3-page papers reacting to articles read in Management Accounting (5% of course grade)]
  2. Bus 204 (financial accounting) [two 3-page papers (5% of course grade)],
  3. Bus 260 (management) [two case studies, midterm essay exams, final essay exam, team reports or journals on local organizations (reports and essays 75-80% of course grade)],
  4. Bus 370 (finance) [15-page written financial analysis (plus financial data) and management report on a company (submitted in three segments and a final report with interim feedback), exams (50% of course grade)],
  5. Business 380 (marketing) [several 1-page analyses, 10-15 page marketing plan for a small business and an essay exam (45% of course grade)].

Business majors must take two department electives, typically from:
Bus 359 (internship) [reflective journals and 6-page paper (35% of course grade)],
Bus 365 (human resource management) [exams are 35% short essay, written group project, three 21-page memo/journals (45% of course grade)],
Bus 367 (small business management) [80-page group report submitted to the Small Business Association and to the client (45% of course grade)],
Bus 369 (international business) [group project: two 10- to 15-page written reports (30% of course grade)],
Bus 381 (advanced marketing) [40-80 page group report submitted to the Small Business Association and to the client (45% of the grade)].

Accountancy majors:
In addition to the four economics and five business courses required of business majors, the following courses are required:
Bus 301 (intermediate I), 302 (intermediate II), 305 (cost) [written assignments related to the profession and how to write in the profession (10-20% of course grade)],
Bus 350 (law) [25-35% of the midterm and final are essay questions, optional paper (30% of course grade)].

In addition to the above, three from:
Bus 306 (tax) [research project, tax returns],
Bus 310 (advanced) [one 5-7 page client memo addressing an accounting issue (written and revised) (15-20% of course grade)],
Bus 311 (auditing) [essay questions on exams, one paper, seven cases (25% of course grade)],
Bus 315 (systems) [extensive use of computer applications].

Group Majors:
The following specific requirements apply:
Business-social science group:
Bus 203, 260, 380, Econ 221, 222, and one from Econ 323-343,
Two department electives,
Four from history, political science, psychology, or sociology.


Economics-social science group:
Econ 221, 222, either 323 or 324, two from Econ 323-343,
Two department electives,
Four from history, political science, psychology, or sociology.

Business-communications group:
Bus 203, 260, 380, Econ 221, 222,
Bus 365 or 381,
One department elective,
Five from Communication Arts and Sciences.

(Note: The group major programs are somewhat different in their requirements. However, the department is convinced that each student still must write frequently using a variety of writing styles. In addition the business-social science and economics-social science group majors must take at least one upper level economics course which will introduce them to more feedback and revision related to their writing in close consultation with the professors of those courses. The Business-Communications group major does not have an upper-level economics course requirement. However, this major requires both CAS 305 and CAS 352. The professor of CAS 305 actively invites students to submit a term paper draft for feedback and revision prior to final copy. CAS 352 requires a substantial amount of writing with feedback and has been offered as a W-course on more than one occasion.)

Concern for Core Courses
The above proposal addresses only departmental majors. It does not address the issue of general liberal arts students taking core courses in our department. This issue raises an entirely different set of issues than does the integration of writing for departmental majors. Insuring the written competency of students via the core curriculum is not an objectives that the department can meet on its own. If we simply treated Economics 151 (our standards core course for non-majors) in a stand-alone fashion, we would not make much progress in serving non-majors. At a minimum the nature of Economics 151 must be considered in conjunction with other social science core courses. Ideally, it should be considered in light of the entire core curriculum expected of students. Economics 151 does have a strong written component because essay tests and exams are used by our faculty. However, opinions vary about the wisdom of formal term papers, particularly when some of the students in that course have not yet completed English 100 (frequently engineering students). Furthermore, in a course which introduces students to a fair amount of quantitative and graphic analysis, journals may be less effective than in some other core courses.

The department should not be absolved of responsibility for its primary core course. Rather, the appropriate locus of responsibility for a coherent approach to writing development in the social sciences resides with our divisional dean and other college committees. Only if we work in concert with other social science departments and those at work in core curriculum plans will we be able to resolve questions about Economics 151. Next year may be an opportune time for this discussion since the social sciences will already be working jointly to address the development of computer/statistical competency among our students. Perhaps the issue of competence in writing should be added to that agenda, addressing the issue of student communication competency across the social sciences.

Continuing Assessment of Progress
The department will continue to assess its progress in improving the written competency of our graduates. Such assessment poses no major problem for the department since we have already undertaken formal assessment efforts. In the summer of 1991 we, with assistance from the Social Research Center, surveyed recent and older alumni along with their employers. In that assessment we asked questions about our effectiveness in developing written communication competency. The survey was the catalyst for some significant changes in the department. During 1994-95 we will be working with the Social Research Center again to assess our progress and have now built a regular cycle of formal assessment into the work of the department. Assessing our effectiveness and needed improvements in developing written communication abilities is and will be a natural part of our ongoing process.

Conclusion:
The Accountancy, Business, Economics, and Group Majors as constituted meet the fundamental goals of the Writing Program by preparing students for the writing they will do as professionals and developing students' ability to use writing to improve learning. Indeed, students are expected to take several courses which individually meet or exceed threshold requirements in the areas of writing which the Writing Program Committee has deemed essential.

Therefore, we conclude it is appropriate that, for Accountancy, Business, Economics, and Group Majors, the integrated department-wide writing enriched program be substituted for the graduation requirement of two writing courses.