Building on the theory of planned behavior, an ex-ante and ex-post survey was used to assess the impacts of elective and compulsory entrepreneurship education programs (EEPs) on students’ entrepreneurial intention and identification of opportunities. Data were collected by questionnaire from a sample of 205 participants in EEPs at six Iranian universities. Structural equation modeling and paired and independent samples t-tests were used to analyze data. Both types of EEPs had significant positive impacts on students’ subjective norms and perceived behavioral control. Results also indicated that the elective EEPs significantly increased students’ entrepreneurial intention, although this increase was not significant for the compulsory EEPs. The findings contribute to the theory of planned behavior and have implications for the design and delivery of EEPs.
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During the past few decades, entrepreneurship has become an important economic and social topic as well as an often- researched subject around the world (Fayolle and Gailly 2008). According to research, entrepreneurship is an intentional and planned behavior that can increase economic efficiency, bring innovation to markets, create new jobs and raise employment levels (Shane and Venkataraman 2000). Most empirical studies indicate that entrepreneurship, or at least some aspects of it, can be taught and that education can be considered one of the key instruments for fostering entrepreneurial attitudes, intentions, and competences (Falkang and Alberti 2000; Harris and Gibson 2008; Henry et al. 2005; Kuratko 2005; Martin et al. 2013; Mitra and Matlay 2004). This view has led to a dramatic rise in the number and status of entrepreneurship education programs (EEPs) in colleges and universities worldwide (Finkle and Deeds 2001; Katz 2003; Kuratko 2005; Matlay 2005); investment in these programs is still on the increase (Gwynne 2008). Nevertheless, the impact of these programs has remained largely unexplored (Bechard and Gregoire 2005; Peterman and Kennedy 2003; Pittaway and Cope 2007; von Graevenitz et al. 2010). Moreover, the results of previous studies are inconsistent. Some of these studies reported a positive impact from EEPs (for example, Athayde 2009; Fayolle et al. 2006; Peterman and Kennedy 2003; Souitaris, Zerbinati, and Al-Laham 2007), while others found evidence that the effects are statistically insignificant or even negative (Oosterbeek et al. 2010; Mentoor and Friedrich 2007; von Graevenitz, et al. 2010).
Methodological limitations may be the cause of these inconsistent results (von Graevenitz, et al. 2010). Some studies, for instance, are ex-post examinations that do not measure the direct impact of an entrepreneurship education program (for example, Kolvereid and Moen 1997; Menzies and Paradi 2003), do not utilize control groups (Kruzic and Pavic 2010) or have small samples (for example, Fayolle et al. 2006; Jones et al. 2008); this has led Martin et al. (2013) conclude that entrepreneurship education researchers must include pre- and post-entrepreneurship interventions, and should include treatment and control groups. Previous studies also have not differentiated between elective and compulsory programs, and research on the important role of compulsory versus voluntary participation in EEPs has been neglected; therefore Oosterbeek et al. (2010) call for the testing of different program variants. In addition, there is no agreement on what would constitute a well-defined method and a suitable conceptual model for assessing the effects of EEPs (Falkang and Alberti 2000; von Graevenitz, et al. 2010). Finally, there is no study regarding the impact of entrepreneurship education for Iranian universities.
The present study has attempted to reduce these theoretical and methodological gaps and make three contributions to the existing literature. First, we developed a model to assess the impact of EEPs. As a second contribution, we studied the nature of the effects of large-scale compulsory and elective entrepreneurship courses at different universities. The third contribution is our use of a pre-test plus post-test design to study these effects. This paper is organized as follows. In the next section we explain entrepreneurial intentions and the theory of planned behavior. We then discuss the relationships between intentions, their antecedents, and opportunity identification, and point out how EEPs may affect these factors. Next we describe the method and findings. Finally, we discuss our results and their implications both for the practice of entrepreneurship education and for future research.
In the social psychology literature, intentions have proved to be the best predictor of planned individual behaviors, especially when the target behavior is rare, difficult to observe, or involves unpredictable time lags (Krueger et al. 2000). Entrepreneurship is a typical example of such planned and intentional behavior (Bird 1988; Krueger and Brazeal 1994). Entrepreneurial intention (EI) refers to a state of mind that directs and guides the actions of the individual toward the development and implementation of a new business concept (Bird 1988). There is a vast body of literature arguing that EI plays a very pertinent role in the decision to start a new business (Linan and Chen 2009). As a consequence, in recent years, employment status choice models that focus on EI have been the subject of considerable interest in entrepreneurship research (for example, Engle et al. 2010; Iakovleva et al. 2011; Karimi et al. forthcoming). Krueger et al. (2000) found that intention models offer a great opportunity to increase our understanding and predictive ability for entrepreneurship.
The Theory of Planned Behavior
Among intention models, one of the most widely researched is the theory of planned behavior (TPB), originally presented by Ajzen (1991). This model has been widely applied in entrepreneurship research, and its efficacy and ability to predict EI and behaviors have been demonstrated in a number of studies on entrepreneurship (for example, Karimi et al. forthcoming; Kolvereid and Isaksen 2006). The central factor of the TPB is the individual intention to perform a given behavior (for example, the intention to become an entrepreneur). Consequently, the model stresses that intention is affected by three components or antecedents (Ajzen 1991): (1) Subjective Norms (SN), referring to perceived social pressures to perform or refrain from a particular behavior (for example, becoming an entrepreneur); (2) Attitudes toward the behavior, that is, the degree to which a person has a favorable or unfavorable evaluation about performing the target behavior (for example, being an entrepreneur); and (3) Perceived Behavioral Control (PBC), that is, the perceived difficulty or ease of performing the behavior (for example, becoming an entrepreneur). PBC is conceptually similar to perceived self-efficacy as proposed by Bandura (1997). In both concepts, the sense of capacity to perform the activity is important (Ajzen 2002).
Literature Review and Hypotheses
Researchers have empirically applied the TPB to students’ EI and confirmed the theory’s predictions regarding the effects of SN, PBC, and attitude towards entrepreneurship (ATE) on their intentions (for example, Engle et al. 2010; Linan and Chen 2009; Iakovleva et al. 2011). However, these findings as a whole do not represent a conclusive and consistent picture. Linan and Chen (2009) tested the TPB among university students in Spain and Taiwan. Their results showed that both ATE and PBC had significant effects on EI; however, PBC was the strongest predictor of EI in Taiwan, while in Spain, ATE was the strongest predictor of EI. Even though SN had no significant direct effect on intention, SN indirectly affected intention through ATE and PBC. Engle et al. (2010) tested the ability of the TPB to predict EI in 12 countries. The results suggested that the TPB model successfully predicted EI in each of the study countries, although, as foreseen by Ajzen and illustrated above in empirical work, the significant contributing model elements differ among countries. Engle et al. (2010) reported that SN was a significant predictor of EI in every country, while ATE was a significant predictor in only six countries (China, Finland, Ghana, Russia, Sweden, and the U.S.) and PBC was a significant predictor in only seven countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Russia, and Spain). Finally, Iakovleva et al. (2011) used the TPB to predict EI among students in five developing and eight developed countries. The findings provided support for the applicability of the TPB in both developing and developed countries. They found the three antecedents to be significantly related to EI in all 13 countries. In sum, these findings together support Ajzen’s (1991) assertion that all three antecedents are important, although their explanatory power is not the same in every situation and country. Therefore, it is hypothesized that:
H1: (a) SN (b) ATE, and (c) PBC are positively related to university students’ EI.
Opportunity identification or recognition has been defined as the ability to identify a good idea and transform it into a business concept (or the considerable improvement of an existing venture) that adds value to the customer or society and generates revenues for the entrepreneur (Lumpkin and Lichtenstein 2005). Opportunity identification has long been accepted as a key step in the entrepreneurial process (Ozgen and Baron 2007). In fact, without business opportunity identification there is no entrepreneurship (Short et al. 2010). For this reason, opportunity identification has become a required element of scholarly research and studies of entrepreneurship, and there has been considerable interest in studying the factors, processes, and dynamics that foster it (Gregoire et al. 2010). The literature provides two main theories regarding opportunity identification: the discovery theory and the creation theory (Alvarez and Barney 2007). Recent research has provided evidence that both the discovery and creation approaches can occur in entrepreneurial practice, and that research is moving toward a middle ground position (Bhave 1994; Short et al. 2010).
The TPB and Opportunity Identification
While three attitudinal antecedents are known to influence a wide range of behaviors, prior studies conducted in different areas (for example, Bagozzi, Moore, and Leone 2004; Conner and Armitage 1998; Haustein and Hunecke 2007; Hsu et al. 2006; Perugini and Bagozzi 2001) argued that additional variables could enhance the power of the TPB to predict and explain an individual’s intention and behavior. Within the domain of entrepreneurship, opportunity identification can be added to the TPB as an additional fundamental element. As mentioned, opportunity identification is a crucial component of the entrepreneurial process (Ardichvili et al., 2003; Gaglio and Katz, 2001; Shane and Venkataraman, 2000), and it is an intentional process (Krueger et al. 2000). In fact, the act of entrepreneurship and the creation of a new business firm are based on the joint occurrence of two events (Krueger and Brazeal 1994; Reitan 1997a). First event is the presence of a suitable entrepreneurial opportunity while the second event represents a person who is able and willing to take advantage of an entrepreneurial opportunity. When these two events coincide, entrepreneurial behaviour may take place; thus, a new firm can be founded. According to Reitan (1997a), “a potential entrepreneur is a person who perceives a venture opportunity and/or intends to start a new venture, but has not (yet) taken any steps regarding venture start-up”. The argument is that opportunity identification and EI are key characteristics of potential entrepreneurs and both must be present for new business creation to take place.
Edelman and Yli-Renko (2010) also stated that perceptions and other cognitive factors play a fundamental role in both the discovery and creation views of entrepreneurship. They argued that the perception that opportunities exist in the market rather than the actual environment or the objective changes in technology or consumer needs are important in predicting efforts to create a new business. In other words, perceptions of opportunity will stimulate an individual’s efforts to start a new business. Stronger perceptions will increase the intention to create a new firm and the energy of potential entrepreneurs to start a firm (Edelman and Yli-Renko, 2010). A perception of an opportunity can spark an intention-based cognitive process that leads to entrepreneurial action (Krueger et al. 2000). It has been shown that the opportunity identification perception (OIP) and EI are closely connected (Bird 1988). That is, a person who finds an opportunity desirable and feasible is likely to create a business (Bhave 1994).
On the basis of the above discussion and in line with Reitan (1997b) and Edelman and Yli-Renko (2010), we propose the following hypothesis:
H2: Those students who have higher OIP will have greater intentions to start up a new business.
In the last decade, researchers have presented numerous models of entrepreneurship and opportunity identification that are grounded in the TPB (for example, Dutton and Jackson 1987; Krueger 2003). In addition, researchers have made considerable efforts to understand the antecedents of opportunity identification (for example, Ardichvili et al. 2003; Baron and Ensley 2006; Casson and Wadeson 2007; Gaglio and Katz 2001; Ozgen and Baron 2007; Shane 2000). These attempts have contributed greatly to our understanding of opportunity identification; however, they fall short of offering a comprehensive understanding of the process. Dutton and Jackson (1987) first mapped out an elegant model of opportunity perception in a study with similarities to the TPB. They argued that a situation is perceived as an opportunity when an individual’s perception of the outcomes is positive and the situation is perceived as controllable. Jackson and Dutton (1988) tested this model successfully. Based on Shapero’s (1982) model and Dutton and Jackson (1987), Krueger (2000, 2003) and Krueger and Brazeal (1994) developed a complementary EI model that includes the perception of opportunity. According to this model, the perception of opportunity is dependent on the same two crucial antecedents of EI, perceptions of desirability (attitude in the TPB) and perceptions of feasibility (PBC or self-efficacy in the TPB). In other words, if individuals perceive entrepreneurship as desirable and feasible, they are more likely to see an opportunity and, thus, form an EI. Reitan (1997b) conducted an empirical study and found that opportunity identification has some of the same antecedents as EI. Specifically, perceptions of desirability and feasibility were strong predictors of both, while SN was important for understanding EI only.
Although the relationship between OIP and ATE is less clear and research on this relationship is scant, previous empirical studies indicate that PBC may be positively related to OIP. According to Ajzen (2002), PBC includes self-efficacy and controllability. Research has demonstrated that self-efficacy (Krueger and Dickinson 1994) and controllability (Dutton 1993) are positively linked to opportunity identification. Studies have also found that self-efficacy is a remarkable predictor of OIP (Ardichvili et al. 2003; Gibbs 2009; Gonzalez-Alvarez and Solis-Rodriguez 2011; Krueger 2000; Mitchell and Shepherd 2010; Ozgen and Baron 2007; Ucbasaran et al. 2009). For example, the study by Krueger and Dickson (1994) found a direct correlation between an increase in self-efficacy and an increase in perceptions of opportunity. Increasing entrepreneurial self-efficacy should increase perceived feasibility of starting a business, thus, increase perceptions of opportunity (Krueger et al. 2000). Ozgen and Baron (2007) believe that individuals with high self-efficacy tend to have broader social networks and to be more popular due to high self-confidence and self-assurance; as a result, these people will receive more information. Therefore, these authors believe that high self-efficacy may indeed be linked to opportunity recognition in this manner. Moreover, individuals with high self-efficacy believe that they can successfully develop the opportunities they discover. As a result, they may be more proactive in searching for such opportunities (for example, Gaglio and Katz 2001) and, in particular, in seeking opportunity-relevant information from other persons (Ozgen and Baron 2007). Accordingly, their study demonstrates that self-efficacy is positively related to opportunity recognition. Drawing on the results and arguments in the studies mentioned above, we propose that students’ PBC and ATE influence their perception of new business opportunity identification.
H3: (a) ATE and (b) PBC will be positively related university students’ OIP.
Entrepreneurial education is a rapidly growing area and a hot topic in colleges and universities all around the world and its supposed benefits have received much praise from researchers and educators. Nevertheless, the outcomes and effectiveness of EEPs have remained largely untested (Pittway and Cope 2007; von Graevenitz et al. 2010). According to Alberti et al. (2004), the first and most important area for further investigation should include assessing the effectiveness of these programs. However, this raises an important question: How should entrepreneurship education be assessed? One of the most common ways to evaluate an EEP is to assess individuals’ intentions to start a new business. Intentionality is central to the process of entrepreneurship (Bird 1988; Krueger 1993), and studies show that entrepreneurial intention is a strong predictor of entrepreneurial behavior. Nonetheless, the impact of EEPs on EI to set up a business is at present poorly understood and has remained relatively untested (Athayde 2009; Souitaris et al. 2007; Peterman and Kennedy 2003; von Graevenitz et al. 2010). Several scholars (for example, Fayolle et al. 2006; Weber 2012) suggest that the TPB is appropriate for the evaluation of EEPs such as entrepreneurship courses. The main purpose of such an intervention is to bring about a change in students’ entrepreneurial attitudes and intentions, and the TPB promises to deliver a sound framework for assessing this change systematically. The TPB has been empirically used by some researchers to assess the impact of EEPs on the students’ EI, and its value has been successfully demonstrated (Fayolle et al. 2006; Souitaris et al. 2007). As such, the TPB is considered to provide a useful framework for both analyzing how EEPs might influence students with regard to their EI and, in particular, for defining and measuring relevant criteria.
Entrepreneurship Education Effects on Entrepreneurial Intentions
Krueger and Carsrud (1993) were the first to apply the TPB in the specific context of entrepreneurship education. They pointed out that an education program can have an impact on the antecedents of intention identified by the TPB. Fayolle et al. (2006) found that while entrepreneurship education has a strong and measurable effect on students’ EI, it has a positive, but not very significant, impact on their PBC. Souitaris et al. (2007) used the TPB in order to test the impact of EEPs on the attitudes and intentions of science and engineering students. They found that EEPs significantly increased students’ EI and subjective norms. However, they did not find a significant relationship between EEPs and attitudes and PBC, whereas Peterman and Kennedy (2003) and Athayde (2009) found a positive effect of EEPs on intentions and perceived feasibility, or ATE, among high-school students. Walter and Dohse (2012) reported that EEPs were positively related only to ATE, not to SN or PBC. Results regarding entrepreneurship education initiatives are therefore somewhat inconclusive, and more detailed research is needed to get a full understanding of the relationship between entrepreneurship education and attitudes/intentions. Notably, in their recent meta-analysis Martin and his colleagues (2013) found overall positive effects of EEPs on knowledge and skill, perceptions of entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship outcomes. Thus we propose that:
H4: Students who have followed an EEP will have higher (a) SN, (b) ATE, (c) PBC, and (d) EI after the program than before the program.
H4e: Students whose SN, ATE, and PBC have increased will also have increased their EI.
Entrepreneurship Education Effects on Opportunity Identification
If entrepreneurs are to be successful in creating and operating new ventures, they must not only develop an EI but also be successful at discerning opportunities that others ignore or fail to notice, and then exploit these opportunities in a timely and effective manner (Dutta, et al. 2011). Therefore, developing opportunity identification abilities is a key element of the entrepreneurship process, and entrepreneurship education should enhance this competency (Linan et al. 2011; Lumpkin e al. 2004). According to the entrepreneurship education literature, opportunity identification could and should be taught, and it should be a central topic in programs that aim to train future entrepreneurs (Sacks and Gaglio 2002). Along the same lines, DeTienne and Chandler (2004) state that the entrepreneurship classroom is an appropriate place for fostering the skills required to enhance opportunity identification competency. Despite a growing amount of literature on opportunity identification and its importance in the entrepreneurship process, there is a dearth of research regarding the effects of education on students’ ability to identify business opportunities. The results of a study by DeTienne and Chandler (2004) indicate that entrepreneurship education led to the identification of more opportunities and more innovative opportunities. Munoz et al. (2011) also reported that entrepreneurship education develops students’ opportunity identification capabilities. Moreover, entrepreneurship education can increase the entrepreneurial knowledge of students (Martin et al. 2013) and it has been indicated that there is a positive relationship between entrepreneurial knowledge and identification of entrepreneurial opportunities (Shepherd and DeTienne 2005). Thus, we propose that:
H5: Students who have followed an EEP will be more likely to identify opportunities for new businesses after the program than before the program.
Elective versus Compulsory Entrepreneurship Education
As already mentioned, empirical studies have yielded mixed results about the effects of EEPs on entrepreneurship. Oosterbeek et al. (2010) and von Graevenitz et al. (2010) found that the EEPs had a negative impact on EI. Both studies examined compulsory EEPs. Oosterbeek et al. (2010) argued that the effects of EEPs may have been negative because participation in EEPs was compulsory. In this study, we assess the effects of two types of EEPs (voluntary, or elective, and compulsory EEPs) on students’ EI. Compulsory programs are given to every student enrolled in a certain degree program; therefore, they include both those interested and those uninterested in entrepreneurial activity and education. However, participants in elective EEPs have an interest in entrepreneurship education, and seek out further knowledge and skills in entrepreneurship. Moreover, motivated students will more actively participate in learning activities than students forced to take the course. Therefore, we can expect that an elective EEP has a greater influence on participants, than does a compulsory one.
H6: An elective EEP will have a greater effect on students’ ATE, SN, PBC, OIP, and EI, compared with a compulsory EEP.
ATE=Attitude toward Entrepreneurship; SN=Subjective Norms; PBC=Perceived Behavioral Control
EEP=Entrepreneurship Education Programs; OIP= Opportunity Identification Perception
Figure 1: The proposed research model
Entrepreneurship Education Programs
Over the past decades, many developing countries including Iran have faced various economic problems, in particular the excessive number of university graduates unable to find government or private sector work opportunities. Over the last decade, Iran has expressed increasing interest in various entrepreneurship fields (in higher education settings, policy-making, and business) as a fundamental solution for the unemployment problem and improving the economy. The government is spending more than ever to promote and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. Accordingly, measures and mechanisms have been proposed to develop entrepreneurship in the public and private sectors as well as in universities. The first official step was taken in 2000 with the establishment of a comprehensive program for entrepreneurship development in universities, called KARAD, as part of the Third Economic and Social Development Program. The main goal of KARAD was to promote an entrepreneurial spirit and culture in academic communities and familiarize students with entrepreneurship as a career choice; specific facets aimed to encourage and train them on how to prepare a business plan, and to start and manage a new business. To achieve this goal, several programs and strategies were considered including establishing entrepreneurship centers and introducing entrepreneurship courses such as “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship” into undergraduate education (Karimi et al., 2010).
“Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship” as a compulsory or elective course is taught to undergraduate students in their last two years of college in various faculties/departments. It aims to increase university graduates’ knowledge about entrepreneurship, influencing their entrepreneurial attitudes and intentions, and encourage them to be job creators rather than job seekers. According to by Linan’s (2004) EEP categorization, these criteria allow the course in which this study’s survey was conducted to be classified in the category of “Entrepreneurial Awareness Education.” Although the course description is almost the same at every university, educators might use various teaching materials and methods for this course. The methods most often employed are lectures, readings, class discussion, business plans, case studies, and guest speakers.
Participants and procedures
During the 2010-2011 academic year, an ex-ante and ex-post survey was used to measure the change in student EI and opportunity identification competence over approximately a 4-month period in “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship” courses at six Iranian universities. Our research used a quantitative method, including a questionnaire that was handed out at the beginning of the first session (t1) and at the end of the final session (t2) of the courses. Undergraduate students who enrolled in the entrepreneurship courses at six Iranian public universities served as the sample for the study (n=320). The reason for including several different universities was the objective of covering a wide range of different class characteristics and of different rankings of Iranian universities. As not all the students in the university were allowed to take entrepreneurship courses, respondents for our questionnaire were selected on a purposive basis. The students surveyed were told that the questionnaires were for research purposes only and that their answers would not affect their curriculum in any way; participation was always presented as a voluntary choice. In the first survey (t1), 275 students participated (response rate of 86 percent) and in the second survey (t2), 240 students (response rate of 75 percent). We were able to match the two questionnaires (at t1 and at t2) for 205 students. These represent 64 percent of total enrollment in the entrepreneurship courses at the selected universities. The sample consisted of 86 male students (42 percent) and 119 female students (58 percent), with ages ranging from 19 to 31, with a mean of 22.08 years. There is a greater proportion of females in the sample because more females than males enroll in the degrees where the data were collected. There was no control group; only students participating in the course filled out the two questionnaires. In general terms, the breakdown of the sample according to college major is: Agricultural Sciences (49.8 percent), Engineering Sciences (21.5 percent), Management and Business Science (21.5 percent), and other majors (Humanistic and Basic Sciences: 7.2 percent).
Measurement of Variables
All construct measures were adopted from existing scales. All items (aside from demographic characteristics) were measured using a seven-point Likert scale ranging from ”1”, representing ”strongly disagree”, to ”7”, representing ”strongly agree”. These items and the sources from which the items were adopted are summarized in Table 1. Several control variables were used in the study: age, gender (coded as 1=male and 0= female), university ranking (coded as 3=high ranking, 2=intermediate ranking and 1=low ranking), university (categorical variable for the 6 selected universities), and academic major (categorical variable for the 4 academic majors).
Details, Reliability and Validity of the Measures
No of Item
Linan and Chen (2009) , e.g., “I have very seriously thought of starting a firm”
Attitude toward Entrepreneurship
Linan and Chen (2009), e.g., “Being an entrepreneur implies more advantages than disadvantages to me”.
Adopted from Kolvereid (1996b), which has been used in Kolvereid and Isakson (2006); Krueger et al. (2000) and Souitaris et al. (2007). This scale included two separate questions: belief (e.g., “I believe that my closest family thinks that I should start my own business”) and motivation to comply (e.g., “I care about my closest family’s opinion with regard to me starting my own business”). The belief items were recoded into a bipolar scale (from -3 to +3) and multiplied with the respective motivation-to-comply items. The subjective norm variable was calculated by adding the three results and dividing the total score by three.
Perceived behavioral control
Linan and Chen (2009); e.g., “Starting a firm and keeping it viable would be easy for me.”
Opportunity identification perception
Selected from the literature on opportunity identification (Hills 1995; Nicolaou et al. 2009; Ozgen and Baron 2007; Singh et al. 1999; Ucbasaran and Westhead 2003), gauging both the self-perceived ability to recognize opportunities (for example, “I am able to recognize new business opportunities in the market”) and alertness to opportunities when they exist (“I have a special alertness or s
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