Do you have entrepreneurial dreams? If so, attending college may help cultivate your innovative ideas, according to a new study by New York University’s (NYU) Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
Higher education is often scrutinized for how it goes about preparing students to solve modern problems. In fact, rather than being seen as engines of innovation, colleges and universities are sometimes accused of being suppressors of creativity and entrepreneurship.
Now, colleges and universities are putting in great strides to make innovation and entrepreneurship central aspects of higher education, with the number of entrepreneurship programs increasing in the last few decades.
The new study findings suggest that beyond personality, family history of entrepreneurship, and other characteristics, higher education may actually spur innovation.
“Cultivating innovative entrepreneurship appears to involve both nature and nurture, both personality and experience,” said Matthew J. Mayhew, Ph.D., associate professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt.
“With the expansion of opportunities to study entrepreneurship comes important theoretical and practical questions,” said Mayhew. “Can innovation be taught? Or is innovation something that a student just has? These questions reflect the need for research that examines how students obtain the entrepreneurial skills required to move ideas from thought to action.”
Although recent studies have shown a link between participation in higher education and student intentions to engage in entrepreneurship, differences in educational settings have not been fully explored.
For the new study, researchers analyzed how well three different types of educational settings cultivated students’ entrepreneurial ideas. These settings included the following: a U.S. undergraduate four-year environment (375 students); a U.S. M.B.A. two-year environment (109 students); and a German five-year business and technology environment (210 students).
All of the participants completed an instrument to assess personality dimensions, including extraversion and openness to new experiences. Students also answered survey questions about their college experiences (e.g., challenging learning environments, relationships with faculty, and approaches to problem solving) as well as their entrepreneurial intentions.
The findings showed that participation in both the German and the American education settings positively influenced innovative entrepreneurial intentions. Personality also played an important role in predicting an intention to innovate, albeit with variations across educational settings.
Entrepreneurial intentions were statistically related to a personality that is extroverted and conscientious for U.S. undergraduates; a personality that is extroverted, conscientious, and open to new experiences for German students; and a personality that was open to new experiences for U.S. M.B.A. students.
Furthermore, undergraduate male students, as well as students identifying as Asian or politically conservative, were more likely than their peers to demonstrate innovative entrepreneurial intentions. For U.S. undergraduates, a family history of entrepreneurship was also associated with innovative entrepreneurial intentions.
“This study disrupts the position that higher education may not be conducive to fostering innovation by suggesting that both personality and structured higher education experiences contribute to cultivating innovation potential among college students,” said Mayhew.
“The good news is that innovative entrepreneurial intentions can be influenced by educators, regardless of the many differences in traits and experiences that students across cultures bring to college campuses.”
The study is published in The Journal of Higher Education.
College student and his future photo by shutterstock.