College Offers Degree in Multi-level Marketing (a.k.a. Pyramid Selling!)

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Mocking students who choose impractical majors is a popular pastime in the blogosphere; HolyTaco.com has a list of the Top 10 Most Worthless College Majors, with fields like Music Therapy, English Literature, and Latin landing on the list.

But in the pursuit of practicality and vocational training, Kansas-based Bethany College is now offering one of the most dubious majors in the thousand-plus-year history of higher education: Network Marketing, a.k.a. pyramid selling.

That’s right, Bethany College, where 84% of students graduate with an average of $22,699 in student loans, is now offering students a chance to spend four years learning how to succeed as an Amway distributor.

For those who don’t know about network, or “multilevel” marketing, it’s a business structure in which salespeople are compensated partly based on how many other salespeople they can recruit. And it’s controversial because the structures resemble illegal pyramid schemes — a stigma the Bethany program acknowledges and apparently seeks to change.

“Entrepreneurs have not been taught how to correctly use network marketing,” said Robert Carlson, the chair of the program, in a statement. “This has led to many using unethical, unsustainable, and nonproductive network marketing business models. We want to fill the education gap and teach students how to use the foundations of servant leadership to successfully and honorably operate a network marketing business.”

[time-link title="(Read TIME's NewsFeed story about the fellowship that pays students $100,00o to not attend college)" url=http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/05/31/fellowship-pays-students-100000-to-not-attend-college/]

The college will offer a marketing major with a concentration in network marketing, along with a certificate in network marketing. The major involves a mind-numbing 56-57 credits of multi-level marketing studies. Ironically though, one of the major talking points used by network marketing recruiters is that it’s a business anyone can get involved in with no prior knowledge. On its website, Amway argues that “With Amway, you are never in business alone. In addition to the support you will receive from your sponsor, Amway provides you with world-class training, marketing, products, and customer support.”

My pal forensic accountant Tracy Coenen has this to say on her blog:

I have no idea what would possess any educator to think that they ought to spend valuable classroom time teaching this type of legalized scam to students as if it was a legitimate business pursuit. I can only assume that the powers that be, namely one Robert Carlson, M.B.A., professor and chair of business, has done no research on MLM and has no idea how these scams operate. … A full 99% of people involved in multi-level marketing lose money. This figure has been demonstrated time and again by researchers analyzing the figures released by the companies.

I’ll leave the analysis of the multi-level marketing business model to Tracy, but there are some important takeaways for consumers of higher education: students and their parents who are analyzing different potential majors:

  • Many of these supposedly practical, career-oriented majors exist primarily because students and parents have an appetite for them — not because employers value the degrees. As too many graduates of career colleges have learned, the fact that you have a degree in Video Game Design or Publishing doesn’t mean that someone will give you a job in one of those fields — or the money to repay the loan you took out to get the degree.
  • Be skeptical of claims made about any program; ask how a college is going to help you get a job in a field. Ask to see placement rates, average starting salaries, unemployment rates, and data. You don’t want an opinion from some idiot in a cubicle. You want information.
  • Recognize that interests and ability have a much greater impact on career success than a major. A survey conducted by Payscale Inc., for example, found that history majors who pursue careers in business earn just as much money as business majors.

Will this new program boost enrollment at Bethany? The college currently enrolls just 592 students. But if 10 percent of those students enroll in the network marketing major — and they recruit 10 of their friends, and each of those friends recruits 10 of their friends … move over Harvard?

[time-link title="(Read about TIME's list of the 20 Best- and Worst-Paid College Majors)" url=http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2073703_2073654_2073674,00.html]

3 comments
JustinWoods
JustinWoods

Wow. How did this article get by the editor? There must not be one. This article is purely slanderous. It's not information. It's not reporting. It's not even accurate: network is a pyramid? That is pure ignorance. I read that comparison and immediately realized I was reading pure slander and not research or reporting. If I were the college I would sue this joker for libel. This article was written by someone who failed in his own business and is using this article to vent his frustration.  

nvf207
nvf207

Well that was certainly not an unbiased article. Also for the comment made about the fact that students should be wary because employers do not value this degree... isn't the whole point of network marketing that you don't work for an employer but instead work for yourself on your own terms?I love that this college has enough insight and foresight to offer a major that resembles the business world in this day and age versus other colleges that continue to offer outdated majors that do not translate seamlessly into the working world. Kudos Bethany College!

valstay
valstay

Koodoes to the Professor for teaching valuable information about the Network Marketing Profession!  Ms Tracy is blinded because she truly doesn't understand the profession.  Her research could not have been all encompassing as she would know that the reason failure occurs is because we have an appetite for success only if it doesn't require consistent work and leadership on our part.  To succeed in this profession (and anyone can!) you MUST have consistent daily efforts that are massive in the first 3 years...meaning YOU DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO.  This profession is NOT a pyramid scheme by definition so first Ms. Tracy should study the definition.  YOU HAVE TO RECRUIT A TEAM in order to grow this business, just like you have to grow a sales team in an organization to sell services or products and the manner of compensation in companies is heavily weighed with commission and bonus covering a draw.  In Network Marketing you own your own business but you're NOT in business alone.  Ignorance causes so much misconception.  I hope 2 years after this article was written that Ms. Tracy has gained further insight into a very viable industry that even Warren Buffet and Richard Branson acknowledge as the wave of the future.  Speaking of which have you revisited the industry Zac and thought of a sequel update to this article 2 years later? @zacbissonnette