SOURCE: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

November 18, 2009 08:00 ET

First-Time College Students Show Increasing Interest in Entrepreneurship

Study Shows That "Business Owner or Proprietor" Career Choice Has Risen Over Time

KANSAS CITY, MO--(Marketwire - November 18, 2009) - Interest in entrepreneurship among first-year college students has risen over time, a recent study reveals. Trends in Business Interest Among U.S. College Students is being released today by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in conjunction with Global Entrepreneurship Week, held Nov. 16-22, 2009, which introduces millions of young people around the world to entrepreneurship. The study bases its findings on data available through the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, which for 40 years has conducted the CIRP Freshman Survey, the most ubiquitous survey of college freshmen in the United States.

Among its findings, the study revealed that, through the 1970s and early to mid-1980s, the numbers of students that listed "business owner or proprietor" as their career of choice trended upward, peaking in 1987 at 3.7 percent. The category then dropped to a low of 2.2 percent in 1993, before beginning an upward climb to 3.6 percent in 2005. In 2008, 3.3 percent of students chose "business owner or proprietor" as their preferred career.

"Colleges have expanded their entrepreneurship course offerings over the last decade, which likely drives some of the increased interest in business ownership," said E.J. Reedy, manager of Research & Policy at the Kauffman Foundation, who conducted the research with CIRP Director John H. Pryor. "In the current economy, given the trends toward outsourcing and unemployment among youth, we anticipate that young people's interest in entrepreneurship will continue to advance."

The CIRP data show that only 0.5 percent of women wanted to be business owners in 1976. This number rose to 2 percent in 2008. While the rising female interest in entrepreneurship quadrupled when examined as a level, the differential interest by gender actually is larger at the end of the period (2.8 percent) than at the beginning (2.2 percent).

Examined by race, the data show that, in the late 1980s, black freshmen started to become the predominant group (proportionally) to express interest in business ownership. Surpassing white students, who previously represented the largest category of those who expressed interest in owning businesses, black students continued to widen the lead from the 1990s on.

Though in 2008 relatively few first-year students chose "business owner or proprietor" as their preferred career choice, many more (43.3 percent) reported that becoming successful in a business of their own was essential or very important. In 1984, this item's importance peaked at 51.2 percent.

The discrepancy between those who view success in their own business as essential or very important and those who say they will choose a career as a business owner or proprietor indicates that students view the two items differently, Reedy said.

"Some students will choose careers that are closely associated with disciplinary study, such as law or medicine," Reedy said. "They may not view these areas as a means to business ownership, even though many of these students ultimately may be business owners in their chosen fields. We can speculate that the narrower career choice option could capture those who see themselves as future business owners, while the 'success in my own business' category captures those with overall tendencies toward seeking success."

The research also found that:

--  Men have been more likely than women over the last 38 years to
    consider success in their own businesses as essential or very important.
    The gap has been narrowing since the mid-1980s, however.
--  Over the last 37 years, black students have been more likely than
    other racial groups to report that entrepreneurial success was essential or
    very important. Asian and Hispanic students show comparable values, and
    white students have consistently placed lower importance on this item.
--  Students are far more likely to come from a family with a father
    as a business owner than a mother.

Download the complete report at

About the Kauffman Foundation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private nonpartisan foundation that works to harness the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to grow economies and improve human welfare. Through its research and other initiatives, the Kauffman Foundation aims to open young people's eyes to the possibility of entrepreneurship, promote entrepreneurship education, raise awareness of entrepreneurship-friendly policies, and find alternative pathways for the commercialization of new knowledge and technologies. It also works to prepare students to be innovators, entrepreneurs and skilled workers in the 21st century economy through initiatives designed to improve learning in math, engineering, science and technology. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo. and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit, and follow @kauffmanfdn on Twitter.

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