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UNT to offer bachelor’s degree in retailing

Profile image for By Maria Halkias
By Maria Halkias

DALLAS — You love to shop. Well, guess what? Now you can major in it.

The University of North Texas offer a new bachelor’s of science degree in retailing, reflecting the rapid changes in one of the oldest forms of commerce.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the degree last year, and students can declare the major this fall.

Several universities offer merchandising degrees and certificates in retail programs, but UNT said its degree is the first in the U.S. to include the three main components of retailing: merchandising, digital and operations.

Retailing graduates will be ready to dive into omnichannel operations, which will be the focus of the degree, said Judith Forney, dean of the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism.

Omnichannel is a buzzword in retailing, but no one has come up with a better one to identify the complex behind-the-scene efforts to blend stores and online operations for shoppers. That strategy demands a stream of prepared new talent.

“It’s been challenging for colleges to keep up with curriculum changes,” said Ellen Davis, a senior vice president at the National Retail Federation who’s in charge of programs about training, educational outreach and student scholarships. “Some still think it’s about the art of picking fabric, but it’s more complicated and about digital and consumer behavior and coding and so much more.”

The industry has the reputation for offering all entry-level, minimum wage jobs, but it’s filled with high-paying jobs in operations and at the corporate level in finance and information technology. It’s also focused on high technology and expects to add more than 100,000 e-commerce jobs by 2017, according to Forrester Research.

Students get it, said Richard Last, senior director of the school’s Global Digital Retailing Research Center. He started teaching Intro to Digital Retailing in the fall of 2011 with 40 students. Enrollment has been steadily growing and the class that begins this month will have 102 students.

“Many of our students work their way through school in retail and can have some bad experiences and get turned off,” Last said. “But the industry’s higher-paying jobs aren’t always on their radar. A career degree in it today is well-timed. Our students are getting jobs.”

UNT’s degree is part of the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism, which has offered degrees in merchandising for years. A degree in digital retailing was added in 2011.

In the last quarter of 2015, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved 35 new degrees, but 10 programs were closed for lack of student participation, said Rex Peebles, assistant commissioner at the state agency.

“We rely on the institutions to track industry demand, and we also look at the Texas Workforce Commission data,” Peebles said. There are about 150 degrees offered at the dozens of campuses at the state’s four-year colleges, but not all are offered at each campus to avoid duplication.

Another degree just approved by the state board has some retail applications. The downtown campus of the University of Houston now offers a master’s of science in data analytics.