For many years, at many universities, marketing has been one of the most popular undergraduate majors; student requests for courses grossly exceeded the number of available teachers. And it is easy to figure out why. Today, as university enrollments drop across the country, many business schools have experienced a disproportionate share of student loss, and that, too, can be seen in how students make academic decisions.
For most students, the choice of courses or a major is not an academic decision. It is a process of elimination. The process might not be conscious, it is definitely not overt, but, for many students, it exists nonetheless.
The process starts with students' beliefs that to choose a major course of study is to choose a career and that job options are dictated by transcripts. (I guess that when the next innovation hits the market, it will first appear as a course requirement!) In the past, this dropped most liberal arts programs from consideration unless student plans include law, medicine or some other post-graduate study. Science provides many jobs, but it is often eliminated unless a strong science interest was engendered in high school. Engineering also provides many jobs, but the programs are difficult and require extensive math and calculus, another high school proficiency which, like science, U.S. schools do so poorly to encourage.
Granted, these are generalizations, not universals. But we all hear how people are "trained," not "educated" by college. Both students and graduates talk of "using" their degree.
Accordingly, since most students see their future careers as "in business," they believe they must study business in college. They then seek course titles or majors they think will "help" them get a job. Or sometimes, marketing provides the least objectionable area in the business school. "I don't want to be in accounting," they say. "Accountants are so boring!!"
Many universities have fed these beliefs, with placement officers, faculty and department heads telling students how their degree "qualifies" graduates for certain jobs.
Then why have some business schools been losing students? Why are the numbers of marketing majors in decline? If anything, the students' search for job certification is stronger than ever.
The answer is simple: across every campus, from liberal arts to home economics, other departments now claim to provide job training. Marketing is losing students to direct competition.
Sociology departments now "train" criminologists. English departments run degree programs in business writing and book editing. Other non-business faculty claim to train students in hotel management, restaurant service, public relations, fashion merchandising, and commercial design, to name a few. To get the students back, marketing faculty could improve their training and placement efforts. Surveys could be taken of area firms to determine what graduates need for first jobs, and the degree programs could then be designed with ties to a strong internship and placement program. With every shift in the job market, the programs would swiftly shift the content accordingly. Eventually, students would know that all graduates get jobs.
But there are dangers here. What of students that can't be placed? What if the demands of entry-level jobs change faster than your program or faculty? What if economic problems cause a downturn in the available jobs for everyone? It has not happened to any marketing college program yet, but some universities' professional programs have been cut under tight university budgets, with limited placement success given as a strong reason for the decision.
Should marketing's academic future be tied to the job market?
As an alternative, instead of researching on how to deliver better job training, marketing departments could seek strong ties with the rest of the academic community.
Many marketing faculty have long existed apart from the academic world that employs them; they consider their business credentials more important than their academic ones. They do not think of themselves as objective scholars who study marketing phenomena. And for undergraduate students, at the peak of our popularity, courses were limited to majors.
Yet regardless of whether the academic discipline is defined as the narrow field of business practices, or much broader in reference to public policy and societal concerns, marketing can be an integral part of any student's education. No matter what the major, no matter what the job, understanding marketing practices and their role in a modern economy can be useful for any educated person. So many people know so little about what marketing is (and is not). And some very educated people believe all sorts of strange things about advertising, retailing or other areas of marketing practice. Marketing is a strong academic discipline, studying a pervasive aspect of American society.
Marketing can lead the way for business college courses to become part of a university's core curriculum. Still young as an academic discipline, marketing's inter-disciplinary roots are still strong. Our scholars, scholarship and a variety of courses could become parts of many university programs, both "professional" education and those with more academic goals.
It is just a thought, but a hard sell for job training might be a sell out. The future of marketing education would be to attract students to our education value as a perspective with a special insight in how to think. We don't want students to "learn the facts, get the grade, pass the course and land the job," but instead, we want them to "learn to learn and think."
Marketing as an academic discipline can attract students by teaching
the value of what it is, not what business and placement officers would
like it to be. That would be of greater long term value to business, to
our students and to the academic community.