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University of Delaware - Alfred Lerner College of Business & Economics

By Lerner October 27, 2017

In 1917, the United States entered WWI, Woodrow Wilson was president, the Progressive Era was ending and jazz music was all the rage. It also marked the first time Delaware College, the University of Delaware’s predecessor, offered business administration classes to members of the community.

This year, the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics celebrates this centennial and looks back at how these first four business classes created opportunities for business education in the region and set the foundation for what we now know as the Lerner College. See Lerner’s 100 Years of Creating Opportunity timeline for a look back at major milestones.

“The University of Delaware was among the first universities to establish a collegiate business program – not long after the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1881,” Lerner College Dean Bruce Weber said. “Lerner College today is proud of its legacy and our role in developing business leaders well-trained in management and economic principles.”

Life on campus at the time was very different than it is today. UD was divided into two coordinated colleges, Delaware College and the Women’s College of Delaware. In 1921, the University of Delaware name was adopted to refer to the entire institution, but both coordinated colleges maintained their name. In 1945 the two colleges merged to become a coeducational institution.

In 1917, 221 men attended Delaware College and 110 women attended The Women’s College of Delaware. It was also the first year that Delaware College required four years of high school courses in order to be considered for admissions.

Under President Samuel Mitchell, Delaware College first previewed the new business courses available in fall 1917 in a December 1916 edition of the Delaware College Review (which cost one dollar that year). They were:

Bus 1: Accounting and Commercial Law
Bus 2: Principles of Business Organization and Managements and Banking
Bus 3: Statistics, Insurance, and Transportation
Bus 4: Corporation Finance and Investments, Scientific Management, and Problems in Marketing

Delaware College was expanding rapidly during this time because of large donations from 1914-1920 by Pierre S. du Pont, who was the largest private benefactor that Delaware College had known.

The course catalog from that year described the business administration courses as designed “…to train men in the fundamental facts and principles of modern business and finance. Students desiring to take these courses should ground themselves in Economics, History, and Sociology.”

Professor Fred E. Clark, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1916, taught these courses. Then in 1918, Professor Claire E. Griffin, Ph.D., created the department of economics and business administration in the school of arts and science.

After this, courses in business administration and economics expanded rapidly at Delaware College, from four business courses being taught in 1917 to ten courses being taught in the 1919-1920 school year. These new courses consisted of topics in elementary economics, business law, labor and trade unions, finance and accounting.

Women, who took home economics at the Women’s College, were able to take business classes in 1945 when the two colleges combined. WWII caused low enrollment at UD, and all courses were open to women after the colleges merged.

Through the years, business education at UD evolved at steady pace, especially in the 1950s, when UD saw a period of rapid growth under then-President John Perkins.

The first MBA program at UD began in 1952. The School of Business and Economics was created in 1963, and was formally founded as of the College of Business and Economics in 1965. The College was first accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) in 1966.

The degrees awarded when the college was founded were a bachelor of arts in economics, bachelors of science in accounting and business administration, and an associates degree in secretarial studies.

The Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) was created in the 1971. Experiential learning activities then flourished in the late 1990s with the creation of Blue Hen Investment Club and student-operated gourmet restaurant Vita Nova.

The college became the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics in 2002. It was named after MBNA chairman and CEO Alfred Lerner, who was one of America’s successful business leaders and philanthropists, especially in his support of educational causes. In 2008, what is now known as the Geltzeiler Trading Center opened as 50-seat educational trading floor with professional financial market data feeds and software tools.

“Lerner is also proud of the broad education our students receive in diverse subjects, and the attention that given to the social responsibilities of businesses,” Weber said. “UD has long known that businesses contribute to making the world a better place, and we look forward to creating opportunities for our students in the next 100 years.”

Today, the Lerner College continues to thrive, with more than 30,000 alumni across the globe. More than 3,500 undergraduate and 850 graduate students are taking classes from 150 faculty members. And there’s plenty more history to be made.