First candidates for M.E. degrees in U.S. higher ed history
The first candidates for master of entrepreneurship degrees in U.S. higher education history meet before entering Western's Ramsey Center for the start of the university's December commencement ceremony. They are (left to right) Steven W. Young of Waynesville, John L. Mason III of Murphy, Mary Lou Argueta of Sylva and Joshua M. Hydaker of Cullowhee.

CULLOWHEE – An economist observing Western Carolina University's fall commencement Saturday (Dec. 18) might have noted that an important key to a healthy Western North Carolina economy could be seen marching into Western's Ramsey Center with all the other degree candidates.

That key to a prosperous economic future appeared in the form of four Western Carolina students who crossed the stage at the Ramsey Center as the first candidates for master of entrepreneurship degrees in U.S. higher education history. Those four students – Mary Lou Argueta of Sylva, Joshua M. Hydaker of Cullowhee, John L. Mason III of Murphy and Steven W. Young of Waynesville -- are the first to complete Western's master of entrepreneurship program out of a class of 42 students who enrolled in the program when it began in fall 2003.

Western's M.E. program, along with the university's bachelor's degree program in entrepreneurship, which started in fall 2001, are expected to have a positive impact on WNC economic development by providing graduates who will establish and grow businesses and hire employees in the mountains. Economic figures indicate that 60 percent of new jobs in North Carolina are created by owners of small businesses.

Students who complete the academic requirements to receive a master of entrepreneurship degree will possess knowledge to allow them to thrive in small business. Where many sink, they will have the tools to swim, say Jim and JoAnn Carland, the husband-and-wife team who are professors in Western's graduate entrepreneurship program.

Western's is the only master's-level program devoted exclusively to entrepreneurship in the United States, but that isn't the only thing that sets it apart, the Carlands say.

“Our master of entrepreneurship program is unique because it challenges the basic precepts of business,” said Jim Carland. “Successful and sustainable economic development can never depend on some outside savior finding our mountains attractive. When large firms make location decisions, they do so on the basis of economics, and all of that is temporary in nature as the economics change and these firms pursue more opportunities for further efficiencies. Outsourcing is currently the most economical approach to running a business enterprise.”

Entrepreneurial development is different in that it doesn't seek “efficiencies,” said JoAnn Carland, program director.

“In fact, efficiency damages creativity and innovation, which are quite messy and inefficient by nature,” she said. “Creating and recognizing opportunities requires one to abandon the traditional business concept of efficiency. A large firm would never start an operation in a new and unproven market. That would expose it to too much risk, and an error in judgment could lead to an ouster of top management by irate shareholders. Only entrepreneurs are free to act on their insight and intuition.”

Every course offered in Western's M.E. program deals with principles of entrepreneurship, which makes it stronger and more practical than similar programs elsewhere, the Carlands say. Many colleges across the country offer a master of business administration degree with a concentration in entrepreneurship, but those programs are built on a base of business courses.

Thirteen of the 42 students who enrolled in Western's M.E. program a year ago owned business ventures at that time, and 11 of the 13 have since undergone “significant expansion,” said Jim Carland.

Eleven more students have started business ventures since enrolling in the program, and the remaining 18 students plan to start businesses after graduation, he said.

Forty-one other students started the M.E. program, through a distance learning format, this fall. Another 150 students are enrolled in Western's entrepreneurship program at the undergraduate level, and 65 of those are taking the program through distance education. Many of the 65 have started businesses or have expanded existing businesses since beginning the bachelor's degree program, the Carlands say.

Both Carlands are natives of Buncombe County and veterans of entrepreneurship, having co-founded more than a dozen companies and consulted for 400 other businesses. The definition of “entrepreneur” is still a topic of debate in business circles, but the Carlands say the definition should encompass both insight and will.

“An entrepreneur is one who sees the world in terms of potential ventures and opportunities, one who has the skills and knowledge to see how to translate that vision into reality, and one who has the will and self confidence to act on that vision,” Jim Carland said.

“Most entrepreneurs develop the skills and knowledge in the real world the same way they learn to ride bicycles – by skinning their knees,” JoAnn Carland said. “Untrained entrepreneurs learn by trial and error, and the literature shows that multiple failures are not uncommon in a successful entrepreneur's history.

“We learned that way, too,” she said. “Because of our experience, we knew that education could eliminate many of the skinned knees and forestall many of the failures.”

The Carlands say there is a distinction between “small business” and entrepreneurship.

“Small business owners create and grow family ventures every day. They are extremely vital to the well-being of the economy and are greatly desired as drivers of local economic development,” Jim Carland said.

“However, few small business owners ever reap significant financial rewards from their labors. They create businesses that support their families and create jobs for others, but the approach to creating major wealth eludes them,” he said.

“Entrepreneurs learn how to create value within their firms that goes beyond the actual performance of work within those firms,” he said. “This value creation impacts the economy much more greatly than the small business because it results in greater wealth for everyone involved in the entrepreneurial venture. We are changing small business owners into entrepreneurs and changing the concept of a venture which can support a family into the concept of a venture that can create major wealth within the region.”

“Our entrepreneurs will stay here and create multiple ventures, cultivate and grow those ventures, change those ventures and shift their emphases and directions, and sell those ventures to their employees and to other entrepreneurs right here at home,” JoAnn Carland said. “The wealth will be created here, and it will stay here.”

Western's M.E. program is offered both fully online and through classes that meet every fourth Saturday afternoon in Asheville. A part-time program designed to accommodate the needs of working people, the M.E. typically takes two years to complete and involves seven semester hours of academic credit each fall and spring, and three hours of independent study during one summer.

Western entrepreneurship faculty also includes Frank Lockwood, who has more than three decades of entrepreneurial experience and earned a doctoral degree at the University of South Carolina. The Carlands and Lockwood will be joined in the spring semester by Bob Carton, a former chief financial officer in four highly successful entrepreneurial ventures who has served as a consultant in entrepreneurship for 15 years. Carton earned his doctoral degree at the University of Georgia.

For more information about Western's M.E. program, call (828) 227-3386.

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Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 | Originally published: Monday, December 20, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Western Carolina University