Journal of Entrepreneurship Education (Print ISSN: 1098-8394; Online ISSN: 1528-2651)

Research Article: 2019 Vol: 22 Issue: 6

Franchise Education in The United States: A Content Analysis of Syllabi from U.S. Business schools

Denise M. Cumberland, University of Louisville

Jenny Buchan, UNSW Sydney Australia

Ben Litalien, University of Maryland Global Campus

Citation Information: Cumberland, D.M., Buchan, J., & Litalien, B. (2019). Franchise education in the United States: A content analysis of syllabi from U.S. business schools. Journal of Entrepreneurship Education, 22(6).

Abstract

As entrepreneurship education has broadened to include franchising as an independent course, the authors sought to understand what elements of a paradigm may be operating. The study presents findings from a content syllabi analysis of 25 stand-alone franchising courses offered in business schools across the United States. The authors identify key characteristics of the higher education institutions offering these courses and explores what the curriculum includes, how the courses are being taught, and by whom. Findings show both Introductory and Advanced courses are available. The majority of Introductory courses cover both the franchisor and franchisee perspectives, but the Advanced courses take either a franchisor or a franchisee orientation. There is some limited agreement on a paradigm for what content is covered in the Introductory courses, but little consistency in course texts. As franchising represents a popular entry path for small business ownership, this study identifies what academia is offering prospective or nascent entrepreneurs.

Keywords

Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship Education, Franchise Education, United States.

Introduction

Business format franchising is defined as a business model where the controller of a brand (the franchisor) grants trademark use rights to an independent third party (the franchisee) to distribute the product or service in return for a payment or royalty and agreement to abide by brand quality standards (Judd & Justis, 2008). There are over 745,000 business format franchised establishments in the United States (IFA, 2018). In 2017, business format franchising was responsible for $425.5 billion of the United States (US) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (IFA, 2018). Furthermore, franchising in the U.S. is expected to grow 1-2% annually (IFA, 2018), with expansion coming from new franchisees becoming first time owner operators in established systems, small businesses and entrepreneurs turning to franchising as a growth platform, as well as conversion franchising, whereby either independent businesses are rebranded to create a franchise system, or current store managers are encouraged to become self-employed franchisees of their stores. Not only is the franchising sector one of the most accessible avenues for employment, it also represents important space in the entrepreneurial environment that harvests and grows small businesses (Cumberland, 2015).

There is significant interest in teaching students how to launch and grow for profit organizations (Finkle et al., 2006) as well as non-profit enterprises (Thomas & Van Slyke, 2019). As the discipline of business education continues to expand globally (Paço et al., 2016), numerous pedagogical approaches are offered (Michael, 2018), and empirical data suggests completing courses on small business will have a major impact on students’ entrepreneurial attitudes (Harris et al., 2007). Given that franchising is a popular form of small business ownership (McDermott & Boyd, 2018), it is not surprising that courses on franchising have been added to the curriculum. In today’s competitive and dynamic business environment, the knowledge and skills needed to create a replicable business (a franchise) is an avenue for growth that reduces the length of time a newly established business takes to become profitable and, some argue, minimizes risk of new business failure (Spinelli, 2010). For entrepreneurial students specifically, franchising courses are an important area of study as they can offer proven business models that can help turn students into franchisors or franchisees (Jackowski et al., 2011).

The types of businesses being franchised today have expanded, with the categories ranging from mobile businesses such as in-home health care, home cleaning, lawn mowing, and pet care to fixed location businesses like retail stores, restaurants, gyms, automotive shops, and hotels. Students in entrepreneurship programs would benefit from a deeper understanding of the different career paths (e.g., franchisor, franchisor employee, franchisee, and franchise advisor) the franchise business model offers, as well as how this type of business model works. People working with any of the new knowledge identified above will ultimately need franchise-related accounting or legal advice as well as funding. Accountants, lawyers, finance, and information technology sector workers thus need to understand how the model works so they can help clients perform meaningful due diligence, provide advice, and assess loan applications. Regulators involved in franchising at both state and federal level are stakeholders whose job is made much easier if they understand how the model operates. These regulators are often graduates of business or law schools.

Given that franchising education in academic institutions is still in a nascent stage (Jackowski et al., 2011), this study is designed to provide a picture of the objectives, materials, content, teaching methods, and learning assessments used in franchising courses to determine if an established paradigm has been embraced. In addition, this study sheds light around some institutional, course, and instructor characteristics.

The research questions guiding this study include:

1. What are common institutional, course, and instructor characteristics of the courses taught on franchising?

2. What are the major objectives of business school courses on franchising?

3. What are the most common reading materials prescribed (e.g., textbooks, cases, journal articles)?

4. What content and topics are covered?

5. What teaching methods are advocated?

6. How is student learning assessed?

7. Are there new opportunities that business schools could address?

This article will be of interest to business school deans and curriculum directors, as well as faculty tasked with creating courses on franchising. The discussion is broken down into (a) methods used for conducting the syllabi course content analysis, (b) results of our syllabi content analysis, (c) discussion and recommendations for creating a course on franchising, and (d) conclusion.

Methods

Course syllabi are important documents in higher education (Habanek, 2005; Steiner & Rozen, 2004; Sullivan & Maxfield, 2003) offering more detail than program websites (Brown et al., 2013) that, at best, provide a course name and description. Syllabi provide information that delineates learning outcomes and provides a framework for the instructors’ pedagogical approaches (Ison, 2010), which includes the required readings, assignments, and assessment methods for the course.

As a form of research, content analyses of syllabi can offer greater understanding of what and how material is being taught in a course, discipline, or program (White, 2005). In the discipline of business education, there are numerous studies that have examined syllabi content, including studies on E-commerce courses (King et al., 2001), organizational behaviour (Brown et al., 2013), professional selling (Loe & Inks, 2014), business information (White, 2005), business communication (Bogert & Butt, 1996), and law courses (Wright, 1995; Merlino et al., 2008). The primary contribution of these articles is to identify common learning objectives, texts, and pedagogical methods used in these classes. Some (e.g., Pierson, 2016) also identify gaps in the programs and make recommendations about the educational needs of future student cohorts.

The boundaries of this study included undergraduate and graduate courses specifically dedicated to franchising that are taught in business school programs in U.S. institutions of higher education. Programs on franchise law, including those within business schools, are excluded. To identify franchise business courses for inclusion, the authors turned to academic organizations, websites, publications, and resources known for franchise education.

Sample

Our research involved a dual strategy for collecting syllabi. The second author compiled a list of higher education institutions in the United States with business schools that was based on an Internet search of U.S. business schools. This list of 309 U.S. schools was then used to visit the websites for each of these business schools to determine if the undergraduate or graduate business program offered a course that was exclusively on franchising or included franchising within a course. A spread sheet listing all 309 colleges or universities provided the initial screening. Upon the completion of a search of the college or university’s website, either a yes or no was listed for the column ‘Franchise Course Offered’ and whether the course was in a graduate or undergraduate program.

Using this list, the lead author contacted each business school that offered a course dedicated to franchising. School personnel offered the names of deans and/or faculty who would have that type of information. Deans and faculty were then contacted by telephone and email and requests made for them to share their syllabi. These individuals were also asked if they were aware of other franchising courses taught in other schools. This led to three more schools being added to the original spread sheet. Of the 14 universities/colleges located that offer courses, 10 offer one course, and four offer two or more courses dedicated to franchising, for a total of 25 courses being taught in higher education on the subject of franchising. We secured 25 of the 25 syllabi (100%). While small, this sized sample is consistent with similar studies in other disciplines (Loe & Inks, 2014) and meets Hodson’s (1999) criteria that 15 cases is sufficient for content analysis studies.

Development of Categories and Coding Procedures

Boréus & Bergström (2017) describe content analysis as a “coding system to systematically break down, categorize and describe the content of texts” (p. 24). The first author read all syllabi and used an open coding method to produce a comprehensive list of all elements found in the syllabi (Boréus & Bergström, 2017). Next, the open-coding elements were reviewed to determine subcategories and to ensure no overlap. A database spread sheet containing the categories and subcategories was created. Each syllabus represented one case. Descriptive information on the course (e.g., modality, credit hours, number of sessions, etc.), along with instructor information (highest degree listed) was recorded. Information ignored from the syllabus included class times, locations, and institutional policies.

Results

Institutional and Course Characteristics

When examining the characteristics of the academic institutions offering franchising courses, 64% are public, with 36% classified as private institutions. Four business programs appear in the rankings of U.S. News & World Report. While 71% of these institutions offer only one course on franchising, there are four colleges (29%) that offer two or more courses on the subject. Franchise courses tend to be: a) at the undergraduate level (68%), b) meet in person (77%), and c) valued at 3 credit hours (77%). With respect to number of weeks the course meets, there is greater variety. Forty-four percent of the courses are offered over the traditional 15-week semester, while 32% are offered in semesters that are between 8 to 14 weeks, and a small number (24%) are offered in a more condensed time-frame (4 or 5 weeks). Finally, the terminal education level of faculty teaching franchising is mixed, with 60% having master’s degrees and 40% having doctorates. See Table 1 for details.

Table 1 Characteristics of Institution, Courses, and Instructors
Institution Characteristics (n=14) n %
Public 9 64%
Private 5 36%
Listed in 2018 US News & World Report Business Schools (Grad or UG) 4 29%
Schools with One Franchising Course 10 71%
Schools with Multiple Franchising Courses 4 29%
Course Characteristics (n=25)
Undergraduate 17 68%
Graduate 8 32%
Face-to-Face Course 19 77%
Online Course 5 19%
Hybrid Course 1 4%
3 Credit Hours 20 77%
1.5 Credit Hours 5 23%
15 Weeks 11 44%
8-14 Weeks 8 32%
<8 Weeks 6 24%
Instructor Characteristics (n=25)
Hold a Doctorate 10 40%
Hold a Master's Degree 15 60%

Course Materials

Of the 17 volumes listed across the syllabi as required texts, the most overlap was with the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) (2018) ICFE Study Guide, which was required for five courses, but these courses were hosted by just two colleges. The only book used by three distinct colleges was From Ice Cream to the Internet: Using Franchising to Drive Growth and Profits of Your Company. Only two of the texts address both the franchisor and franchisee perspectives, while four focus on the franchisor perspective and five are oriented toward the franchisee. Ten of the 17 volumes were published on or before 2010. See Table 2 for a detailed list. Four courses do not have assigned texts and indicate that course readings will be provided by the instructor. Four courses mention the use of videos, one lists a self-assessment that must be taken, one course lists the names of the case studies to be used, and finally one course requires three external journal articles be read, all from the journal Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice.

Table 2 Assigned Course Readings (Ranked by Usage then Alphabetical) 
  Author(s) Year Published # of Syllabi Using
ICFE Study Guide for Franchise Executives ICFE 2012 5
From Ice Cream to the Internet: Using Franchising to Drive Growth and Profits of Your Company Shane, S. 2005 3
Franchising: An Entrepreneur's Guide Justis, R. & Judd, R. 2008 2
IFA Introduction to Franchising IFA 2001 2
Franchising, Pathway to Wealth Creation Spinelli, S., Rosenberg, R., Birley, S. 2003 2
Franchising Your Business: An Owners Guide to Franchising as a Growth Option Boroian, D. & Callaway, L. 2008 1
The Educated Franchisee: The How To Book for Choosing a Winning Franchise Bisio, R. 2011 1
Buying a Franchise: 24 Items to Beware of Before Signing Caperino, F. 2012 1
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What To Do About It Gerber, M. 1995 1
Selling'em by the Sack Hogan, D. 1997 1
So You Want to Franchise Your Business Kestenbaum, H. 2008 1
How to Buy and Manage a Franchise Mancuso, J. & Boroian, Donald 1993 1
Street Smart Franchising Matthews, Joe 2011 1
The McDonaldization of Society Ritzer, George 2015 1
Essentials of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management Scarborough, Norman & Cornwall, Jeffrey 2016 1
Franchising for Dummies Seid, Michael & Thomas, D. 2010 1
The Fissured Workforce: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done To Improve It Weil, David 2014 1

Teaching Pedagogy

Faculty employ multiple pedagogical approaches. The wide variety of techniques embraced is not surprising as Solomon’s (2007) survey of 270 business schools detailed numerous teaching methods. Analyses of the franchise course syllabi, shown in Table 3, reveals advocated teaching methods include lectures (79% of syllabi), class discussions (79%), research assignments involving business plans or feasibility assessments (67%), case studies (67%), and guest lectures (38%). Other pedagogical techniques were used more sparingly. It should be noted that while the syllabi may indicate that these activities occur, without observation or instructor surveys these percentages merely reflect what is anticipated to occur.

Table 3 Use of Teaching Techniques 
Teaching Tools n %
Lectures 19 79%
Class Discussions 19 79%
Research Assignments 16 67%
Case Studies 16 67%
Guest Speakers 9 38%
Student Presentations 7 29%
Group Projects 6 25%
Exercises/Activities 5 21%
Interview Assignments 3 13%
Field Trips 1 4%
*One course did not provide enough detail of teaching methods

Learning Assessments

The most common means of assessing student learning are quizzes and exams (n=17, 68%), accounting for 41% of the total grade. While class participation is frequently incorporated into the total grade, the weighting averages only 15%. The three most common assessments with high value, other than quizzes/exams, are writing case reports (n=13, 52%), conducting a feasibility analysis (n=8, 32%), and writing a business plan (n=6, 24%). These three types of assignments range in value between 27% and 35% and correspond to entrepreneurial courses that typically require students to develop feasibility analyses and business plans for entrepreneurial endeavours as means of calibrating student learning (Pittaway & Edwards, 2012). Other components of learning assessments are varied across the courses, as shown in Table 4.

Table 4 Most Frequently Used Learning Assessments and Percent of Grade 
Learning Assessments n % of Grade Value
Quizzes/Exams 17 41%
Class Participation 16 15%
Case Reports 13 35%
Feasibility Study 8 27%
Business Plan 6 31%
Franchise Analysis 4 35%
Franchisee Interview 4 18%
Industry Analysis 4 3%
FDD Preparation 2 18%
Economic Model Paper 2 24%
Self-Assessment Report 2 9%

Course Themes

The content analysis examined course objectives, learning outcomes, purpose of each course and the weekly content (all but one syllabus listed the weekly topics). From this analysis each course was classified either as an “introductory” course on franchising (n=14) or an “advanced” course on franchising that explored specific topics in depth (n=11).

Introductory Courses

Course titles ranged from Franchising (n=5); Fundamentals of Franchising (n=3); Franchise Management (n=3); Principles of Franchising (n=2); Introduction to Franchising (n=1). Of these 14 introductory courses, 9 provided coverage of both the franchisor and franchisee, three were focused primarily on being a franchisor and two focused on the franchisee. Overall, however, there was a high level of consistency in certain areas of content listed in the syllabi. For example, topic coverage of what could be categorized under Franchising Basics was found in all syllabi (100%). This category included a range of subjects, such as: what is franchising; the franchise business model, advantages and disadvantages of franchising, types and terms, different roles of the franchisee and franchisor, history of franchising, etc. (See Table 5).

Table 5 Presents the Frequencies with Which Each of These Topics are Covered in the Syllabi 
Franchising Basics Introductory (n= 14) Advanced (n= 11) Total
What is franchising 14 0 14
The Business Model & Economics 11 0 11
Advantages / Disadvantages 10 0 10
Types and Terms 9 0 9
Different Roles of Franchisee/Franchisor 9 3 12
What businesses can be franchised 8 0 8
History 8 0 8
Franchising Growth/Economic Outlook 6 0 6
Why Franchising Exists (Theories) 2 0 2
Franchisee Focus Introductory (n= 14) Advanced (n= 11) Total
Searching/Evaluating the Franchise 10 2 12
Understanding the Legal Docs/FDD 9 0 9
Developing the Business Plan to Purchase a Franchise 7 2 9
Financing the Franchise Purchase 6 3 9
Motivations/Fit to Be a Franchise 8 0 8
Characteristics of Good Franchisees 7 1 8
Exit Strategy 2 2 4
Franchisee Marketing 5 1 6
Skills Needed to run the unit 4 2 6
Selecting a Franchise Location 3 1 4
Franchisee Human Resources 0 1 1
Franchisor Focus Introductory (n= 14) Advanced (n= 11) Total
Entrepreneurship of developing a franchise (Brand/Concept) 11 3 14
Developing the FDD 8 2 10
Recruiting and Selecting Franchisees 7 1 8
Supporting Franchisees 7 1 8
Financial Analysis and Funding 5 2 7
Franchise Agreement - Legal Power 5 1 6
Expansion/Territorial Strategies 6 0 6
Managing the system 5 1 6
Characteristics of Good Franchisors 3 1 4
Operations Manual 3 0 3
Other Introductory (n= 14) Advanced (n= 11) Total
Laws Regulating Franchising 7 2 9
International Franchising 7 2 9
Policies for Successful Franchises 2 5 7
Franchise Advisory Councils 2 3 5
Franchise Associations 3 1 4
Future of Franchising 2 2 4
Ethics of franchising 2 1 3
Social Impact 0 1 1

Of the 11 Introductory courses, the majority (n=9) focused on both the franchisor and franchisee, while three emphasized the franchisor lens and two focused on the franchisee. Topics most frequently covered that addressed the franchisee included investigating franchises, evaluating franchises, developing the business plan for buying a franchise, understanding the FDD and financing the purchase. Topics addressing the franchisor with strong coverage included the entrepreneurship of developing a franchise concept, developing the FDD, as well as recruiting and supporting franchisees.

Advanced Courses

Course titles were narrower and addressed specific aspects of franchising (e.g. Franchise Human Resource Structure; International Franchising; Buying and Growing a Franchise, Franchise Creative Ventures, etc.). The orientation of these courses differed from the introductory courses. Only one course addressed both the franchisor and franchisee, six assumed a franchisor lens, while four focused on the franchisees view. As expected, subject matter had a narrower focus and there was less alignment across the 11 courses. Only one topic, Policies for Successful Franchises, was covered across five of these Advanced courses (Table 5).

Discussion and Recommendations

This study of syllabi indicates that franchising in academia is taught in both public and private universities; the majority of which are not listed in the well-known business school rankings. Most of the institutions typically offer only one franchising course, primarily to undergraduates, rely mostly on the traditional face-to-face modality, and offer the standard value of 3 credit hours per semester. Finally, the absence of terminal degrees among faculty (60%) may suggest the faculty are practitioners versus active researchers.

Syllabi could be classified between Introductory and Advanced courses. In the 14 Introductory courses there is high consistency on teaching the basics in franchising, but very few of these courses cover theory. Half of the introductory courses address the role of both the franchisee and franchisor, while the others focus on either the franchisor or franchisee. Among the Advanced courses, however, the topics covered are not only specialized, but there is a tendency to focus only on either the franchisor or the franchisee. Only one Advanced course covered topics oriented to both the franchisor and franchisee perspective.

Ten courses utilize books published on or before 2010. Further, while some authors, such as Shane, Judd, and Justis are academics whose writing will be supported by empirical evidence, other books being used in these courses risk the flavor of a marketing exercise and need to be contextualized. As the franchise business model continues to evolve rapidly, any publication more than eight years old should be replaced, or heavily supplemented with more modern teaching resources. One course did list three external journal articles, but all three were from the same journal. Many journals carry up to date empirical and theoretical franchise research articles. These include the Journal of Business Venturing, Journal of Marketing Channels, Journal of Small Business Management and others.

Many of the sub-disciplines within franchising such as marketing, management, and economics also have seminal academic articles on franchising, which should be offered to students, particularly in advanced courses that have a narrower focus. Because there is no escaping the law, all introductory courses should at least touch on regulations that surround franchising. Similarly, economic drivers in franchising are a key to making sense of how the model can work, and how individual franchise systems can fail. For franchisors, understanding the economic dimensions of the business model is critical. They need to understand how risk is shared between a franchisor and its franchisees, the impact of various asymmetries, how to evaluate at what point a franchisor stops relying on initial franchise fees to remain viable, and so on. Similarly, people training to be franchisees are not employees; as self-employed franchisees they can seldom rely on their franchisor to be the sole repository of all financial analysis and funding knowledge. They, too, need to understand the economic dimensions of the model and how to analyse whether their investment will bear fruit in the term allocated by the franchisor.

Many franchisors are now owned by venture capitalists, or, like Yum! Brands, are listed public companies. Others, like 7-Eleven, are complex networks of businesses that operate across 19 countries in four continents. Advanced courses would benefit by examining these types of models.

Moving now to teaching modality, while this small sample relied on face-to-face learning, there are five courses offered online. Online courses can be expensive to create, but their existence can extend the range and appeal of a topic significantly. These courses also reach a wider audience and can be highly interactive. With respect to pedagogical practices, all of the syllabi suggest faculty embrace didactic teaching approaches, but over half of the courses appear to incorporate research elements, case studies as well as guest speakers to compliment traditional lecture pedagogy. Given that franchising is ubiquitous, panels of franchisors and franchisees might be a useful approach to encourage real world dialogue. Internships can also be beneficial learning experiences.

Planning meaningful assessment tasks is a challenge for all educators. The nature and requirements of assessment tasks are, to an extent, dictated by the type of educational institution. There is a need on the one hand to provide authentic tasks, and on the other to be confident that students have not plagiarized or contracted their work out. Tasks such as a feasibility study, business plan, FDD preparation, and industry analysis are invaluable and lend themselves well to being carried out by a group of students, as do business plan competitions, such as those offered by the Small Business Institute. Quizzes/exams are the form of assessment where it is difficult to cheat. They are also quite artificial as they test the ability to cram and regurgitate information rather than to demonstrate a deep understanding. While the majority of franchising courses used quizzes, many also required research assignments and half embraced case study reports.

New opportunities that business schools could address are, as noted above, to produce more online content. In addition, they could collaborate with educators who teach the Small Business Institute curriculum, or teach in other disciplines, such as hospitality schools to address the needs of hotel managers who work within franchised networks (e.g., Hilton Hotels), or law schools (to develop a mutual understanding of the needs of the franchise sector and the constraints imposed by the law). Courses could also be opened to the wide range of specialist professional and industry bodies whose members include large numbers of advisers to the sector as well as franchisors and franchisees.

Before moving to identify limitations in this study, and opportunities for further research, it is relevant to note that of the schools offering a suite of franchising courses, one is offering a franchise certificate. As franchising is a continually growing business model, higher education certification in franchising could gain traction.

Limitations and Future Research

Similar to other research of syllabi, this study does have limitations. First, syllabi are a secondary source of information and as such are an imperfect approximation of course content. Some course elements may only be communicated verbally in the classroom, and faculty may revise course goals and/or content while teaching the class. Second, from this secondary source we are attempting to understand the educator’s teaching approach from a narrative, as opposed to observation, which would provide a valuable addition for insights on pedagogical methods actually used. Third, the sample is small. This, however, is primarily due to the number of franchising courses currently being taught. It is, of course, possible a course on franchising may have been missed or added since this research was undertaken. We believe, however, the sample provides a snapshot for understanding what higher education institutions in the U.S are teaching with respect to franchising. We also suggest that future research could examine courses in programs that infuse franchising in the content to have a larger and more representative sample.

Fourth, as noted above, this study is focused on U.S. business schools. It would be useful to expand our study to include courses on franchising that are offered in law schools and the American Bar Association. Fifth, it would be interesting to replicate this study in other regions such as China, Europe, and Australia where franchising is a vibrant sector in the economy.

Conclusion

Although franchising education at business schools is still in a nascent state, surfacing the knowledge that was produced from this syllabi content analysis of franchise courses taught in U.S. business schools can provide faculty and curriculum instructors with suggestions for improving these courses. Furthermore, it illuminates for program chairs and business school deans the need for an increased focus on a business model that strongly contributes to the U.S. economy. As a discipline, entrepreneurship and business programs in universities might benefit if they broaden their focus and incorporate stand-alone courses on franchising. If one of the goals of these programs is to promote self-employment to create new businesses in their region, offering students intense study of how to replicate a business via franchising, or how to become a franchisee owner-operator, the university may well grow the local economy and generate new jobs.

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