Last month’s DataBrief pointed out a widespread entrepreneurial skills gap among arts alumni from various backgrounds: relatively few alumni indicate that their institution helped them acquire or develop entrepreneurial skills, yet most claim that entrepreneurial skills are important to perform effectively in their profession or work life.

Alumni call for educational institutions to pay closer attention to developing students’ entrepreneurial skills. However, there is a need to unpack what is meant by entrepreneurial skills” because the term encompasses a wider set of skills, such as idea development, leadership, and opportunity recognition. The upcoming SNAAP Career Skills and Entrepreneurship module (available to institutions participating in SNAAP or SNAAP+ in 2015) will help us understand how graduates develop, deploy, and understand these skills in varying ways.

It remains to be seen all the ways in which graduates use entrepreneurial skills and for what purposes, but existing SNAAP data enable us to analyze one especially visible and key application of entrepreneurial skills: the founding of a company. Who deploys their entrepreneurial skills to found non- or for-profit organizations? Are there notable differences among graduates by major or demographic characteristics?

Founding a Nonprofit or For-Profit

Overall, 16% of SNAAP respondents have founded a nonprofit or for-profit at some point in their lives, but there are notable differences based on major and demographics.

Alumni from some disciplines are much more likely than others to found a non- or for profit: 26% for dance and 23% for theater, compared to only 11% for art history and 12% for arts education alumni (see Table 1). Some variation between majors is to be expected since employment and artistic activity in some fields, such as dance and theater, are more likely to be driven by smaller, independent companies (as opposed to larger and pre-existing educational institutions for arts education graduates).
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Table 1. Percentage of alumni who have ever founded a non-profit or for-profit organization, by major.

In contrast, the variation by demographic characteristics is somewhat unexpected, as depicted in Table 2:

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Table 2. Percentage of alumni who have ever founded a nonprofit or for-profit organization, by gender, race/ethnicity, and parents’ level of education. 

As the literature on entrepreneurship in other sectors suggests, there is a gender gap among entrepreneurs: In the arts, men are more likely than women to found a nonprofit or for-profit (19% vs. 14%). More surprisingly, SNAAP data shows that white alumni are no more likely than alumni of any other race to found a non-profit or for profit. Black or African American graduates are notably more likely than white graduates to found such a venture (19% vs. 16%). While that is an unexpected finding, entrepreneurship among minority groups is consistent with research on economically disenfranchised communities, which concludes that people who are relatively closed off from opportunities must create their own pathways to success.

SNAAP data point out the critical need for educational institutions to better understand the career pathways of graduates from various backgrounds and, simultaneously, to pay closer attention to developing all students’ entrepreneurial skills.

SNAAP 2015 Includes In-Depth Survey Module on Entrepreneurship

Starting with the 2015 survey, SNAAP institutions can select a module on Career Skills and Entrepreneurship to append to the core survey. Participating institutions can become better equipped to understand and address differences in alumni needs, by major and by demographic characteristics, in their efforts to prepare all graduates for work life. 

This month’s DataBrief was written by Alexandre Frenette, Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the Arizona State University Center for the Study of Creative Work.