published in Marketing Educator, vol. 14 (Winter 1995): p.3

Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Department of Marketing
Auburn University, Alabama U.S.A.

This matchbook cover says I can send for information on an eight-week training program in "a variety of interesting careers, including advertising, computer programming or marketing management." So I ask: If all a student wants is job certification for a future career, what does a marketing major "get" from a college-based degree, besides four years work and several thousand dollars in expenses?

The vocational schools must publish their placement rates for graduates; to recruit students, they must tell them what percentage of people completing the program find jobs. A university generally does not track many graduates, and most faculty do not care. We talk of "quality programs" as an elusive academic ideal, knowing that percentages of college marketing graduates that find marketing jobs are very very low.

A marketing degree is not needed to land marketing jobs and many graduates do not find jobs in areas related to their majors. Visiting a New York advertising agency, one student asked the hosts how many new employees had marketing, advertising or other business degrees. The executive answered that it had been increasing and passed the 50% point last year. Another student then asked how many applicants graduated from those same degree programs. "Oh, easily more than 99%" was the swift reply. Less than 1% of the applicants with "unrelated" degrees got almost 50% of the jobs at this firm.

Many students take courses such as "Basic Marketing," hoping that the materials would provide training for entry-level jobs. Many students choose a marketing major believing that simply holding a degree in the area will, by itself, make them extremely valuable as potential employees.

Possible variations of any type of marketing job are so vast, and the field so fast-changing, no educator would dare assert that passing a college course will provide all the students in that class with skills for an entry-level job. Yet these student beliefs, engendered and developed by faculty attempts to "sell" their programs, encourage students take classes for job-placement value, despite realities of the potential first jobs.

By telling prospective students that graduates are "qualified" in these areas, students are selecting their marketing majors with information (or, more correctly, a lack of information) that violates basic federal guidelines for training programs in vocational schools.

When students at one university heard from the placement officer that most graduates landed jobs in sales, the course titled "Selling" quickly became the most popular course on campus. However, no one asked how many people in sales had ever taken such a course. In a similar vein, when a different university's School of Journalism's students discovered that many graduates from the preceding 30 years were working in public relations, students demanded the creation of a public relations major. They did not seem to notice that three decades of graduates were successful in that field without ever having such a major available.

What students do not realize (and often are not told) is that a marketing major without any experience, is qualified for the same jobs as an English, economics or history major. College undergraduate programs in marketing offer "professional" undergraduate degrees in areas where the degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for a job in the field. Whether you feel that this is right or proper is irrelevant. It simply is.

A successful businessman once told me that today's students aren't properly "trained" to succeed in business. When asked what sort of training they lack, he explained that he was referring to basic skills in logic, problem analysis, writing and mathematics, and he would also appreciate it if they had a basic understanding of the surrounding world.

But maybe, just maybe, some employers and college placement officers are to blame. For example, if a graduate says she studied Russian, a potential employer should ask about her fluency. But increasingly, I hear people say "What are you going to do with that?"

Originally, a choice of a major was nothing more than a student's decision to focus on one area of study besides gaining the broad intellectual growth of a university education. Now we tell students that a major is a choice of a career. And, in the process, maybe we devalue education itself.

Too many students are "sold" a marketing college degree program not by what they will learn or study, but instead, the jobs that the graduates try to fill. As a result, the educational content of programs are considered almost trivial to many students and the students come to believe that what the degree says is more important that what they learn. Course titles as job descriptions replace education value. Programs listing job areas are valued over education.

By turning the value of a marketing education into a job-training program, it is logical that many students want to minimize their difficulty as they acquire "certification." So, over time, we have seen education become a strange commodity for which the consumers want as little as possible for their money. Some students will not recommend a course to friends because they "only recommend easy courses" and will not take another course from a rigorous teacher saying that they "need a rest." We give facts for students to memorize, and administer exams, as if learning lists of facts alone has value on the job market, so after four years, most students can regurgitate details from textbooks, but few can think.

This is not to say that marketing programs should simply increase grading standards, add course prerequisites and expand program requirements. I once heard a department head boast that his bachelor's degree program was as difficult as most schools' M.S. programs and that his masters' degree was tougher than most doctorates. (Which is itself a strange marketing philosophy for that school's programs, saying that a student can go to another school and get a Ph.D. for the same work at his school for an M.S.) But since marketing is not a guild, this merely reduces the number of marketing majors and students that take marketing courses without necessarily improving placement probabilities for graduates.

Marketing can be a valuable field of study, but until we publish placement rates and tell students the real placement potential for being a marketing graduate, we have no right to sell our major as something with strong job value. The value of a marketing degree must go beyond its utility for a future career.

The students' goals (and ours) should be to expand their minds, experience new ideas and develop "skills" to write and think clearly. The job-placement value of a marketing degree is chimera and students should be told that potential employers primarily place value in graduates ability to think, not in the career area that might be on the degree.