The year 2020 marks the centennial of a business college at Creighton University. While the Heider College of Business we all know today—the fully integrated course of study that’s ranked among the world’s top business schools, which boasts strong relationships with Fortune 500 companies and opportunities for experiential learning—has done wonders to shape Creighton’s profile on a national stage, the curriculum that began 100 years ago contained far more unknowns than most of us realize. In its earliest days, Creighton offered courses in commerce, but a systematic business curriculum only came into being after World War II.
Creighton barely was more than 20 years old when its business college took flight. The urban campus was located in the same part of Omaha that it sits today, but the physical address is about the only thing remaining from that era that resembles its former self. Following are highlights from that first decade of the business college; these are part of a larger effort to document the Heider College’s history and celebrate its centennial.
- On September 20, 1920, Creighton launched the Creighton College of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance, under the direction of William P. Quinlan, S.J. Classes were held in the evenings between 7 and 9 p.m.
- It had previously been assumed that a young man could become a leader in a particular industry only after a lengthy period of apprenticeship, not academic study.
- Early course offerings included accounting, advertising, general economics, business English, law, contracts, and commercial French. Most classes were taught by community businessmen.
- Tuition in those days cost $110 per year for a full schedule of classes. By 1924, the cost had risen to $150 per year.
- In 1926, Mr. Floyd E. Walsh was hired as the college’s dean. Shortly thereafter, Walsh and Thomas A. Egan, S.J., reorganized the curriculum and raised the admission standards. According to Neil Cahill, S.J., “Walsh’s philosophy of business education was founded on a commitment to an accounting-based degree, the importance of a liberal education, and an emphasis on ethics and morality in business.” Walsh aimed to eliminate the stigma that surrounded the College of Commerce (that it was a place for incompetent students who couldn’t handle the rigors of philosophy that were part of the Arts College curriculum).
- By 1930, enrollment figures indicated that 40 women were “registered nominally” in the College of Commerce, Finance, and Journalism—they were, in fact, working toward an arts degree, taking mostly arts and science courses.
JOHN BEGLEY, BSC’24, MA’28
The John P. Begley Endowed Chair in Accounting was Creighton’s first ever endowed chair. Begley, a man who was born poor, the sixth of nine children born to an Omaha family, rose to become an academic institution at Creighton.
Begley attended night classes at the newly created Creighton College of Commerce, Accounts and Finance while working at an Omaha meat-packing plant.
In 1924, at the age of 30, Begley was the first recipient of a Creighton Bachelor of Commercial Science degree. He began teaching at Creighton that same year, and in 1927 became the sixth person to be licensed as a Certified Public Accountant in the state of Nebraska.
The accounting chair was endowed in his honor in 1973 by grateful business school graduates. Begley lived to see the honor, dying in 1974 after completing 50 years as a Creighton professor and having achieved a national reputation on the foundation of his published accounting articles.
5 women at the 1928 Commerce Picnic Creighton University