At 21, Jeremy LeWitt, a computer science major at Hofstra University, already has made a few attempts at entrepreneurship, including a company that he and a high school friend formed a few years ago to sell some MP3 software they developed.
That venture didn't work out -- Apple's free iTunes program undercut the business -- but the next time around LeWitt says he will be armed with knowledge and experiences he hopes to gain in a new entrepreneurship program in Hofstra's computer science department.
"Any additional information you can get will pay off tenfold in the future, especially these days when people have five or six jobs over a lifetime versus years ago, when you had one or two at the most," he says. "The turnover rate is just crazy."
LeWitt is among the growing number of students looking to their colleges and universities to provide the business skills they need to forge creative and fulfilling careers in a volatile job market. And many universities, like Hofstra in Hempstead, are responding.
The number of formal entrepreneurship programs nationwide has more than quadrupled since 1975, from 104 to more than 500 in 2006, according to a report by the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based organization devoted to entrepreneurship.
On Long Island, colleges and universities are considering entrepreneurship certificate programs and concentrations, adding classes and offering internships and competitions to help students learn how to set up and run businesses.
"We know many students have been interested in entrepreneurship for a long time, but that doesn't mean there were classes to teach them about business savvy," said Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher at The Princeton Review, which ranks the nation's top schools with entrepreneurship programs. "But the schools have been increasing their numbers pretty dramatically over the last five years, adding new programs especially on the undergraduate level."
Beyond biz school
Both Hofstra and Stony Brook University are expanding entrepreneurship beyond the traditional academic borders of their business schools. Hofstra's business school has for years offered an undergraduate major and a minor in entrepreneurship, and it is now helping the computer science department tailor its own program.
That department and Stony Brook's electrical and computer engineering program collaborated on a National Science Foundation grant proposal to develop a model to give students in those fields entrepreneurial tools and perspectives. Hofstra was awarded $290,000 and Stony Brook $470,000.
"We started thinking about how we can use entrepreneurship to attract more students and to make them more independent once they graduate," said Simona Doboli, an associate professor in Hofstra's computer science department.
Hofstra's program, which started this year, offers a choice of an entrepreneurship concentration and a set of specialized classes, as well as internships and international projects. It also will incorporate entrepreneurial principles throughout classes in its general curriculum. Stony Brook's program, which is expected to begin next fall, will be similar in scope.
The importance of these tools was not lost on Hofstra computer science alums Michael Seiman and Carlton Hickman -- both 2001 graduates -- who started a now-thriving business while they were students. The two donated $50,000 in scholarship money to the program.
"The program that they are trying to develop is one I could have clearly benefited from when I was at Hofstra," said Seiman, 29, chief executive of Westbury-based CPX Interactive, an Internet marketing company. "It's important for entrepreneurs in the computer industry to learn what it means to create and innovate businesses."
Schools such as Farmingdale State College and Adelphi University, which offer entrepreneurship classes, are discussing creating certificate programs.
C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University offers a class in social entrepreneurship, which utilizes entrepreneurial methods to address social issues and benefit society. The trend gained attention when Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank of Bangladesh won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for using microcredit to improve economic circumstances of the poor.
The MBA students in associate professor James Freeley's course act as real-life consultants, helping to improve the efficiency of nonprofits. Students recently assisted The Long Island Way, which partners businesses with charities.
"This also happens to coincide with the fact that college students and graduate students are increasingly looking for meaning in their work," Freeley said.
A practical reality check
Today's college students are looking for programs that will give them real-world skills, experts say. With increasing job insecurity in corporate America and the current recession, students are witnessing the emergence of the "reluctant entrepreneur," a laid-off worker who starts a business out of necessity, many professors note.
"What's happened now is students coming out of school are seeing there's nothing there from the get-go, so they are trying to go it on their own," said Jeff Egan, an adjunct professor at Farmingdale State College.