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.
Still, we know that an advertising degree is not needed to land advertising jobs. Employers don't consider it certification of professional competence.
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, and there is no reason to believe that the firm was atypical.
Possible variations of any type of advertising job are so vast, and the field so fast-changing, no educator would dare assert that a college course will provide necessary skills for an entry-level job. Yet faculty "selling" their programs encourage students to take classes for their appearance of job-placement value, despite realities of the job market.
With college catalogs stating that graduates are "qualified" for certain jobs, students select their advertising majors with information (or, more correctly, a lack of information) that violates basic federal guidelines for training programs in vocational schools.
What students don't know (and often are not told) is that an advertising major without any experience is qualified for the same jobs as an English, economics or history major. Like many other college undergraduate programs, we offer "professional" undergraduate degrees where the degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for a job in the field.
Though still among the younger half of faculty in my department, I am old enough to remember when a choice of a major was only a student's decision to focus on one area of study while 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.
Course titles as job descriptions replace education value. Programs listing job areas are valued over education.
Textbooks and teachers give facts for students to memorize, and administer exams, as if learning lists of facts alone has value on the job market. After four years, many students can regurgitate details from textbooks, but few can think.
Until we publish placement rates and tell students the real placement potential for being an advertising graduate, we have no right to sell our major as something with strong job value. And, as part of a university education, the value of an advertising 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. 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.
Mr. Rotfeld is associate professor of marketing at Auburn University in Alabama.