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Published: Monday, 10/1/2007

Retail work lately gets respect on campuses


The retail industry doesn't get a lot of respect, especially among parents forking over tens of thousands of dollars to fund a higher-level education. It's not just parents.

"Retailing has a very bad image on college campuses," said Bart Weitz, executive director of the David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida and the co-author of a textbook on retailing management that's in its sixth edition.

Yet there are signs that the industry the Department of Labor estimated would employ almost 25 million people in 2005 is getting the attention of educators, who are starting to see the potential payoff for their students.

In the past decade, the number of retail-oriented programs at higher-level institutions probably has grown around 15 percent to 20 percent, said Katherine Mance, vice president of the National Retail Foundation. And she continues to field calls from educational institutions seeking assistance in training students for careers in retail.

Among the challenges in improving the industry's image on campus was getting retailers, who compete fiercely in the strip malls and power centers, to work together to promote the field. Starbucks, for example, might have different job requirements than Home Depot or Petco, but in the past 10 years, the foundation has developed what it considers a nonspecific curriculum that schools can work with to educate students in core areas.

Many colleges that don't specifically offer degrees with a retail concentration also feed into the industry, which needs human resources skills and computer science, finance, and legal expertise as much as fashion merchandising. It can be difficult to quantify the number of college students preparing for and entering retail, in part because the industry isn't picky about the degree that they bring along.

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