Post-Pandemic Education and How Category Management is Affected

August 3, 2022
By Daniel P. Strunk, VP of Certification and Education at CMA | SIMA

Overall Student Enrollment is Declining

Today universities are competing for a dwindling group of undergraduate candidates. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment fell by 3.6% in the fall of 2020 and 3.1% in the fall of 2021. Roughly 18.5 million students are enrolled in universities, with females enrolled in post-secondary education outnumbering men 2 to 1 in 2021, a record gap.

More males approaching college seek jobs after leaving high school, beginning their careers in trades, logistics, or entrepreneurial work. In most instances, the cost of a 4-year undergraduate education is the reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, men are equally capable of being admitted to universities but choose not to. Demographers like Dr. Phil Longman and Harry Dent are predicting that the number of people (male and female) between 5 and 17 will never be higher than it is today and for the foreseeable future (2050). After 2050 the number of people between 5 and 17 is expected to decline in total and as a percentage. The number of young people entering college is declining, as is male interest in continuing education.

With enrollment declining, the competition for students between and within universities has become fierce. Hundreds of business schools are now offering new majors to attract and retain students, including Digital Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Sales, Real Estate, and Hospitality. The effect of this competition amongst majors could mean fewer students will be attracted to category management careers. In addition, Forbes has forecasted that many schools will fail financially due to a declining student population.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 80% of students in college change their major at least once during their time at school. On average, college students change their major three times over their college careers. Recruiting and retaining students within university programs is and will become increasingly difficult. According to the 2021 CMA Student Employment Motivation Study, less than 50% of college students believe they have received good advice about a specific retail career. Without adequate knowledge, students can’t make decisions about their major field of study and, more importantly, choose careers in category management.

Learning Methodology is Flexing

The call to action currently on college campuses is to create student-centered learning environments, both to flex to safety concerns due to COVID-19 as well as attract and retain student body enrollment. This means that how subjects are taught (course modality) is changing dramatically to attract students as they change their career interests and educational preferences.  The percentage of students taking classes online before the pandemic was just 44% and according to The National Center for Academic Statistics, 86% of all students are taking online courses today.

As the COVID crisis has eased, we found that student preferences for teaching modalities has also changed, as has workers’ choice for working from home. Today students in university are learning in the following modalities. According to James Moore, Director of Online Teaching at DePaul University in Chicago, the business school uses the following designations for classes:

  1. On-Campus (P) Class Location: In-person on-campus Students attend classes on campus. On-demand, pre-recorded content that complements in-person learning may be posted on D2L.
  2. Flex (FL) Class Location: In-person on campus OR online (synchronous)
    For each class session, students decide whether to attend class on campus, or access classes live remotely via Zoom. The faculty member teaches from a technologically enhanced on-campus classroom with tools to engage in-person and remote learners.
  3. On-Campus Hybrid (HB) Class Location: In-person on campus AND online (asynchronous)
    Course sessions alternate between online prerecorded content that students access on-demand and live in-person classroom learning.
  4. Online Hybrid (OH) Class Location: Online (synchronous and asynchronous)
    This entirely online course modality alternates on-demand online learning and live remote class sessions.
  5. Online Asynchronous (OA) Class Location: Online (asynchronous)
    This popular all-online option provides students the most flexibility for when and where to learn. All class content is prerecorded, with optional live online activities.

Universities have learned that while students claim they want more in classroom teaching, the demand for online classes is increasing steadily. According to Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research, eventually, 1/3 of college students expect to study online, 1/3 expect to study only on campus, and 1/3 will do both.

Teaching Category Management in Higher Education

Most universities that teach category management do so as a part of their retail programs, some as part of a food marketing program, while others teach category management in combination with sales. About ten colleges and universities are teaching category management curricula today, producing about 250 students entering our field annually.

Students are typically not exposed to category management as a career opportunity in high school, nor is it well known even among students majoring in business or marketing in colleges and universities. Of the Universities that comprise the Higher Education Board of the CMA, all agree that educating students on Category Management careers has been difficult, with a decrease in the physical presence of college students due to distance learning making the task even more challenging.

The need to teach students about visual merchandising/shelf planning is essential to category management, and currently, most schools use software vs. cloud-based solutions. Students of category management are typically exposed to the following technologies:

  1. Shelf Planning
  2. Assortment Planning
  3. Virtual Reality to enhance store tours
  4. Promotion Planning, and
  5. Retail Analytics

As the prevalence of online learning remains, changes in technology may be required to teach students. Many schools also use case studies to teach category management. The case study method provides excellent in-depth knowledge of a real-world retail scenario but typically requires group work which is harder to organize in an online setting.

Role of the Association

In this new learning and recruiting environment, the CMA has the responsibility to help our university members flex their curriculum to meet the needs of students today. The CMA also strives to help our corporate members recruit more effectively, using on-campus technologies (Handshake) and new approaches to recruiting and communication with the students of today.

Are you a university looking to incorporate a category management curriculum at your school? Are you a brand or retailer hoping to tap into more graduates for internships or full-time positions in category management or shopper insights? Contact our member services ([email protected]) for more information on joining the CMA and SIMA.

Students and other industry professionals looking for a job can always check our job board for open positions.