Interest in the business courses introduced by Junior Achievement into a few schools since 1983 has grown so rapidly that even JA officials are astounded.

Philip T. Cofield, president of Junior Achievement of Utah Inc., said that in the 1991-92 school year an additional seven schools will offer the business courses, bringing to 107 the number of schools offering the courses that attempt to acquaint students from the fourth grade up with business.In 1985 when the applied economics courses were first offered in Utah schools, 2,200 students participated. That figure grew to 8,600 in 1990, and in the current school year there are 9,000 students taking the course.

Part of the applied economics course consists of having a business consultant visit the high school and junior high school classrooms several times during the semester to provide information on how businesses function. In elementary schools, University of Utah and Brigham Young University business students visit elementary schools and talk about business.

In 1985, JA had six business consultants who shared their experiences and knowledge with the students, but that total mushroomed to 200 last year.

Cofield said applied economics is a one-semester course for high school credit based on a curriculum developed by JA. A textbook, study guide and a computer management simulation help students understand economic concepts and experience competition in a free-market system.

In junior highs, volunteer consultants visit social studies classrooms weekly to share their business or economics experiences. This flexible program includes activities and information on the American economic system, business operation, personal finance and long-term goal setting and the importance of staying in school.

In elementary schools, the university business students introduce the basic concepts of business organization, management and marketing to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students, Cofield said.

Before the applied economics course was introduced into Utah high schools, JA's program consisted of extracurricular activities that allowed students to sell stock in a company to raise some money, to produce a product and to sell the items to pay off the stockholders.

That program now is part of the applied economics course. Cofield said students aren't asked to spend much of their time producing a product, but they focus on marketing the product and facing any problem that may arise, such as increased taxes or a downturn in sales.

JA's money comes entirely from businesses, and in 1990 the operating budget was $249,000. Because courses will be offered in seven more schools next year, the current fund-raising campaign will have to raise more than last year's total, Cofield said.

Utah's JA program received some national attention when Chris Black, a teacher at Bingham High School, was named Applied Economics Teacher of the Year in 1990 and received $1,000 from JA.