Published in AMS Quarterly, Vol. 2 (August 1998): p.2
Original manuscript. Copyright retained by author

Herbert Rotfeld
Department of Marketing
Auburn University

It has often been noted that the popularity of undergraduate marketing programs has been tied (and/or driven) by interests that students might have in marketing jobs. Students note their interest in what they think the field involves as a basis for selecting a major; department brochures often sell programs based on the types of marketing jobs available in the economy. And research articles in Journal of Marketing Education and Marketing Education Review often state a research rationale that the major is attempting to prepare students for entry-level jobs.

The difference between teaching and training could be merely semantic. After all, a job trainer does teach his or her charges. However, the conflict is more basic than that and has inter-related implications for faculty credentials, graduate expectations and textbook or program content. Since the trainer/placement mentality has influenced (if not controlled) a great deal of undergraduate education in the U.S., it is clearest to see what this means for the prevalent activities & expectations often found in these areas.
Faculty credentials
Many schools often state a desire for faculty to have business experience, and since they will spend time talking "about" business practices, such contacts are desirable. A cultural anthropologist must spend time among the natives. Yet this could be taken to undesirable extremes as when a department chair expresses a wish that faculty retention be based on consulting businesses, since (to him) having something to sell to business means the faculty member would have something important to teach. Faculty are encouraged to fill class time with practitioner-speakers whose credentials alone make them important for campus as long as students do not find them boring.

Yet when job experience supplants education and scholarship as the job credential, faculty then define their work as training for the jobs they personally know. If a graduate seeks a different job, the materials learned from this trainer have little application. The "education" was wasted, or so it would seem. And this also encourages unbounded arrogance by some faculty, such as the young faculty member who said he'll only teach what students need for jobs, even though he had never held one.

Yet it is strange that marketing is one of the few realms of "professional" education where practitioners, especially those who are financially successful, have greater credibility than anyone on campus. In law, medicine or engineering, scholars on campus are held in highest regard by the profession, while it often appears that a dim-witted professional drudge from the marketing business is held in higher regard by students and faculty than some of our leading scholars. Shifting from business to education can be a rewarding career move, yet because of business-experience credentials, even marketing people whose thinking activity ended when they entered campus life might be held in higher regard than solid scholars and educators.

Student expectations
Seeing the degree as job certification, not an education, the students are more concerned about credits they acquire than what they learn in the process. If they see value of the education at all, it is because a course imparted "useful information." Of course, this begs the question as to just what is useful, especially in this fast-changing world. A graduating senior today studied DOS-based Wordperfect in the freshman level computer course and other programs that are equally dated. In business, terms change, the contexts alter, and since the trend is not destiny, "useful information" is chimera. Faculty update their lectures and textbooks are revised, but no one contacts past students with corrections of what was conveyed in the past.

But then, the students care more about credit than content. As our catalogs tell students of the valuable careers that come from a marketing major, as we focus on job training, the students just want the degree, but not the education. Teachers who control courses credits and grades are no longer seen by students as resources to tap or mentors who can provide guidance, but rather, as obstacles to overcome. When called upon to think through a problem, some might just reply, "I don't know. Tell me the answer." Faculty tell answers; they memorize, pass exams, get credit, and move on. To them, the learning is a distraction.
Course and program content
In turn, with a focus on job training instead of learning how to think and ask the marketing questions, the classes and books have evolved into collections of lists and data. The texts provide more statements of "marketing opportunities" instead of marketing perspectives for application. And on campus, the marketing programs can be seen as almost anti-intellectual, draining students from more thoughtful and traditional academic pursuits.
A lot has been said about the need for our students to be able to deliver a power point presentation and know the proper "form" for a business letter. But sometimes even the faculty forget that it is more important that they must also know how to compile and analyze information that would go into the presentations, group meetings and letters.

As a result
It should surprise no one that few students are desiring to read a book and answer questions unless they are first told what they need to know and what is important to remember. Students proudly show their high grades, from multiple-choice exams, as if their future careers will all depend on knowing which choice to make instead of discerning which choices exist. Of course, the real problem is that few people understand the value of education. At a graduation ceremony, several speakers said "Now that your education has ended," meaning there are no more credits to earn.

It wasn't that long ago that universities were primarily concerned with the organization and dissemination of knowledge, not the accumulation and bestowing of credit. Marketing credits provide value for future employers only if it represents a developed ability to think, but calling education job training loses track of this, to the detriment of education itself.