published in Marketing Educator, vol. 13 (Spring 1994): p. 1, 4
Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Professor, Department of Marketing
Auburn University, Alabama
At a high school graduation, the principal had the audacity to stop the ceremony to collect the beach balls graduates are bouncing around. As the parents complain, "Hey, they're just having fun," you realize that, to these people, the ceremony is meaningless in content. Their only concern is that the children went and can later say that they had done so.

So, too, it seems, with school: they go, they graduate, then they expect a job. Actual education is almost irrelevant.

I guess this continues in college. Did you ever wonder. . .

What if your university remained open but stopped holding classes? Students would still register, talk with faculty (if they wanted to do so), but would never attend classes for course credit. They would still declare majors and, after four years of paying tuition, they would receive a marketing degree they could show to parents, employers and friends.

Would many students care? Is this what they really want?

This is a tad heavy-handed and unfair to diligent students. But when we talk of what the students want, we should admit that most marketing educators either created it or pander to the worst of it (and maybe a little of both).

I am certain than anyone teaching more than a few years has had students asked about careers, but it is unlikely any students ever asked about the placement rate for the marketing programs' graduates. But even if asked about placement, you probably only talked about the types of jobs that graduates might hope to fill.

Vocational schools must publish their placement rates for graduates; to recruit students, they must reveal what percentage of people completing the program find jobs. While universities will report graduation rates of athletes and local crime rates, few will track their bachelors degree graduates. And most faculty do not care.

What students do not realize (and often are not told) is that marketing, like most undergraduate programs, offers a "professional" degree where the major is neither necessary nor sufficient for a job in the field.

Admit it: marketing is NOT a closed shop guild for whose jobs non-majors need not apply. We all know successful young practitioners who never took a marketing course.

Yet time and again, in effect, we tell them that what the degree says is more important than how much they learn. And they believe us. Since the students are "sold" a college degree not by what they will study, but instead, the jobs that the graduates try to fill, the education found in courses and programs becomes trivial. Since students are sold the program in terms of post-graduate qualifications, they become more concerned about course credits and "certification" than what they might learn. This makes education a very strange commodity: "customers" want as little as possible for the money. Students pay for the privilege to "learn," but even award-winning teachers at many universities tell me that daily class attendance might run as low as 60-70% during the term. Many students freely admit that they often prefer the easy A or B in a low work-load course to a more difficult (but interesting) course in which they would have to work harder for a C. And many of us have seen our own variations on the following actual students complaints written on faculty members' student evaluations over the past few years:

+"I was not motivated by always having my ideas challenged."

+"I would recommend this course only to a friend who likes to read."

+"I did not like being asked about the readings before the instructor told me the answers of what parts we should know for exams."

+"It was unfair that my grade was not as high as it might have been if I had scored better when writing answers on test exams or typing the writing for doing term papers. I think not that my grade might be pulled down if the instructor has difficulty understanding what I meant to say."

Some students tell me they 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."

By discussing our marketing majors in terms of jobs, not the value of a marketing education, the faculty themselves are responsible for students thinking only of the credit they get.

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

Similarly, a friend related that she finds graduates of "professional" undergraduate degree programs unable to write a simple sentence. She said, "I just wish I did not have to deal with so many people who think that existing through a few marketing classes entitles them to a job."

So when the new student calls and asks about jobs for marketing graduates, what do you say? Do you talk about job certification, employment options, careers, or what they learn by studying marketing in college?

Are your students getting what they want from college? And, more important, is what they want what a college graduate needs?

By telling students the degree and major is what they need, we have only ourselves to blame if they do not care about their educations.