Penn State University claimed the No. 1 position in the Gartner biennial ranking of the top 25 undergraduate supply chain management programs, maintaining its top spot in what is becoming an increasingly crowded market, the information technology research and advisory firm said in a report released last month. Large state universities claimed the top five spots in the ranking, with Michigan State University taking second place, followed by the University of Tennessee, Arizona State University, and Rutgers University.
The ranking comes at a time when more U.S. and Canadian universities than ever are unveiling sophisticated undergraduate programs in the field of supply chain management, in response to increased demand from employers looking for students with expertise in that area.
Students also have been eager to major in the subject, with enrollment growing 43% from the 2014 undergraduate top 25 list, according to Gartner, up from roughly 8,500 full-time students to 12,200. The demand for the major has skyrocketed at some schools. At Rutgers University, ranked No. 5, the annual supply chain management department’s Career Expo has grown so big that the gathering was moved this past fall from the campus center to the vast New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center.
DEMAND FOR GRADUATES ‘STILL FAR OUTSTRIPS SUPPLY’
Of the top 25 undergraduate programs ranked by Gartner in 2014, 19 made the current list, with the remaining six being “forced out” by larger programs that have strong curriculum, high starting salaries, and required or high internship participation, according to Gartner’s report. Newcomers to this year’s ranking include Indiana University, Howard University, the University of Illinois, Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Texas-Dallas.
“As we review the results, we’re struck by the growth of the major, the caliber of students we meet, and the sobering realization that even though we are seeing much larger volumes of supply chain graduates, demand still far outstrips supply,” Dana Stiffler, a Gartner analyst, wrote in an evaluation of the rankings.
Indeed, supply chain majors have bright prospects when it comes to securing jobs. Three months after graduation, 93 percent have landed a job, with most accepting offers in the fall of their senior year. The average starting salary for these students is on the uptick: $55,749 in 2016, up from $53,584 in 2014. Those graduating from top-10 programs command a premium in the market, snagging average starting salaries of $61,590.
GAPS REMAIN AMID PROGRAM REBRANDING
As the supply chain management field grows in popularity, many undergraduate business programs are rebranding their logistics, transportation, and operations research programs and revamping them to make their curriculum more dynamic and relevant to industry needs, Gartner reported.
Most programs now expose students to courses in logistics, procurement, integrated supply chain, and enabling, Stiffler wrote, but students need to take a close look at programs to ensure that they offer enough breadth and depth. For example, she said, still “elusive” in many programs is exposure to supply chain planning and manufacturing, as well as new product development and launch and customer management and service, areas that many companies want students to have expertise in.
Three out of four programs now offer coursework in technology and in analytics, and nearly all supply chain major undergraduates take finance and accounting courses, Stiffler wrote.
EXPERIENTIAL MODEL POPULAR
Another area where companies want graduates with knowledge is applied project experiences, where students engage in supply-chain problem solving for companies. Many schools have responded in turn by creating internship programs in supply chain. All of those ranked in Gartner’s top 25 ranking now offer internships, and 13 programs now require them. Students also get hands-on applied-learning experience through capstone projects, where they consult for companies in a class or group.
The Darla Moore School at the University of South Carolina, for example, has a well-recognized course titled Capstone Consulting Project, in which students work on a consulting team with a faculty member who acts as a lead consultant. Each semester-long consulting engagement serves companies like Continental Tire, Delta Airlines, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Siemens. The strength of the program helped the Moore School move up to the No. 7 spot in this year’s Gartner ranking, up from No. 12 in 2014, said Jack Jensen, managing director of the Moore School’s Global Supply Chain and Process Management Center.
“We look at the Capstone Project not as an academic exercise, but rather we are looking to change the company’s processes or build new processes and help them meet a strategic need,” Jensen said. ”The companies as a result want to hire these students. But these students are so good that many are coming into projects already having secured a job.”