The Top Universities for Supply Chain Technology Education

Supply chain management (SCM) courses are increasingly making their way into the nation’s top business schools. To learn more about what these courses teach students and how they compare to one another, Software Advice ranked the top 15 universities at the undergraduate and graduate level.

This ranking is based on the extent to which the schools emphasize the teaching of technology, software and quantitative tools used by supply chain professionals, as well as the variety and depth of this coursework.

This report will help those considering a SCM education determine which program is right for them.

Key Findings

  1. Pennsylvania State University ranks first for supply chain technology education at the undergraduate level, followed by Western Michigan University.
  2. University of Wisconsin ranks first for supply chain technology education at the graduate level, followed by the University of Michigan.
  3. Michigan State, described as the top school for SCM on other lists, ranks eighth and 11th on our list for undergraduate and graduate technology education, respectively.
  4. Four of the 15 undergraduate SCM programs we analyzed offer a class devoted to learning an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software platform.
  5. Just one of the 15 graduate SCM programs we analyzed offers a class devoted to learning a commercial ERP platform.

Introduction

Supply chain management is a relatively new field of academic study. Only in the past couple of decades have universities begun to offer majors and concentrations in SCM, merging aspects of business, information technology and logistics into one pedagogical framework.

Information technology (IT) plays a critical role in the complex web of supply chains that define our global economy. As a result, it has never been more important for new professionals in the field of SCM to have experience with the digital tools that are, effectively, the backbone of major supply chain operations.

Learning how to use digital tools of the trade is “very beneficial” for students entering the supply chain world, says Jack Karrenbauer, president of supply chain software and consulting firm Insight.

Karrenbauer has also taught SCM courses at several universities as an adjunct professor, and he believes many business schools have been slow to adapt their programs to incorporate SCM and related technology into the curriculums.

“Demand [for SCM education] has simply outstripped supply,” he says.

In order to give prospective students greater insight into the curriculums of what are commonly regarded as the top SCM programs in the U.S., we decided to analyze the strength, depth and variety of software- and IT-related courses in those programs.

Software Advice’s Top Universities for SCM Education

To determine which universities to examine, we aggregated the most recent rankings for SCM programs from a variety of sources (details can be found in the Methodology section).

We then determined the top programs in the nation based on their presence in and spot on those rankings, giving us a total of 15 undergraduate programs and 15 graduate programs in our aggregate “reputation ranking” (see Methodology section below for the complete meta ranking and how it was calculated).

From there, we examined the SCM curriculums and course syllabi for all of the universities in our reputation ranking. We primarily measured how many software- and technology-centric courses are required as part of the curriculum, and how many are offered as elective courses.

We then rated these courses based on the amount of hands-on instruction students receive and the depth of the material presented on a scale of one to three. Points were also awarded to universities who offered certain courses as part of their SCM curricula. After factoring in all of these variables, universities were scored on a scale of zero to 36. These scores were used to create our list of top technology-focused universities.

(Note that a university’s position on our reputation ranking did not determine its position in our final list; this ranking was used merely as the basis for deciding which universities to include in our sample. The final list below is based solely on the aspect of software and technology education, and is not indicative of these programs’ overall quality.)

Without further ado, here are our rankings for the top universities for supply chain technology education:

Rank
Undergraduate
Graduate
1 Pennsylvania State University University of Wisconsin
2 Western Michigan University University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
3 University of North Texas Ohio State University
4 Georgia Institute of Technology Pennsylvania State University
5 University of Tennessee Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6 Rutgers University Georgia Institute of Technology
7 Auburn University Purdue University
8 Michigan State University University of Pennsylvania
9 Arizona State University Stanford University
10 University of Texas at Austin Carnegie Mellon University
11 Purdue University Michigan State University
12 Ohio State University University of Texas at Austin
13 University of Maryland—College Park University of Tennessee
14 Carnegie Mellon University Arizona State University
15 Brigham Young University Harvard University

Penn State 1st, WMU 2nd for Undergraduate Tech Courses

Penn State tops our undergraduate rankings for supply chain technology education. This is primarily due to the strength of its elective offerings, which provide hands-on, in-depth coverage of SCM technology and include courses from both the SCM and Management of Information Systems (MIS) departments.

These course offerings are bundled together in the university’s Supply Chain and Information Systems major, which provides a significant emphasis on the role of IT in the field of SCM.

In addition to standard, software-heavy SCM course fare, such as demand planning and fulfillment and supply chain analytics, Penn State offers a host of courses in the MIS department. These include database management, information systems management and two courses devoted to learning enterprise resource planning (ERP) software on Oracle’s platform.

ERP software is a critical tool for SCM processes. It integrates data from each link within the chain, enabling supply chain professionals to make better, more profitable decisions regarding purchasing, procurement, forecasting and so on.

In second place is Western Michigan University (WMU). Though WMU isn’t as well known for SCM as Penn State or its older brother, Michigan State, it ranks highly due to the unique integration of engineering and IT courses in its undergraduate program. As part of WMU’s Integrated Supply Management major, students are not only required to take a class for ERP, but also one on geographic information systems (GIS).

According to industry trade publication SupplyChainBrain, GIS is becoming increasingly important in SCM because it assists with strategic planning and risk management and allows users to visualize data on maps. For example, a supply chain professional might use GIS software to assess the risk of sourcing raw materials from a supplier in an area that is prone to natural disasters.

WMU’s program also requires students to take at least six manufacturing engineering courses. These courses teach students how to use computer-assisted design software, quality assurance statistical packages and manufacturing resource planning (MRP) platforms, among other things.

To get a better understanding of how the reputations of undergraduate programs compare with their technological emphasis, we compiled both rankings into the quadrant graph below, where the upper-right hand quadrant represents the leaders in SCM technology education:

Undergraduate Programs:
Reputation vs. Technological Emphasis

Undergraduate Programs: <br />Reputation vs. Technological Emphasis

University of Wisconsin Is 1st for Graduate SCM Tech Education

Supply chain management is the “hot new MBA,” according to the Wall Street Journal, and as far as technology education goes, we think the University of Wisconsin might be the hottest of them all. On top of offering its MBA students with SCM concentrations a number of electives in information systems, logistics systems and analytics, Wisconsin also requires students to take a course in ERP software.

The course, which uses the SAP platform, first provides an overview of ERP systems and covers the ERP implementation process. For the final module of the class, students compete against each other to run a simulated business through the platform, which provides a hands-on way to learn best practices for using an ERP system to optimize supply chain efficiency.

Graduate Programs: Reputation vs. Technological Emphasis

Graduate Programs: Reputation vs. Technological Emphasis

The graduate programs in our sample are admittedly much more difficult to compare than the undergraduate programs. While certain universities offer some sort of master’s degree in SCM, other universities offer MBA degrees with a designated SCM concentration or a high number of SCM-related course offerings.

Other MBA programs don’t offer either of these, but simply have a reputation among industry experts for producing high-quality SCM professionals.

As such, while Harvard is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, its reputation ranking is low because it appeared only on the bottom end of SCM World’s rankings. Due to its slim offerings and its lack of a concentration or track in SCM as part of its MBA program, Harvard also scored low on our technology ranking.

With that said, it’s clear that the famed university favors a different approach to teaching SCM, placing a greater emphasis on classroom-based lectures and discussions than on the specifics of SCM technology and its usage.

“The course makes clear that suitable information technology and knowledge of analytical tools are necessary, but not sufficient, for supply chain integration,” reads the course description for the MBA program’s sole SCM course. (“Integration,” in this context, refers to the relatively newer concept of closely aligning and coordinating the different links in the supply chain to optimize the supply chain’s overall efficiency, resilience and profitability.)

Amid the Harvard Business School’s “fight to keep the MBA relevant,” it’s worth noting that the field of SCM is experiencing significant growth: the U.S. Department of Bureau Labor Statistics estimates that between 2012 and 2022, the number of supply chain and logistics jobs will increase by 22 percent—double the average growth rate of all occupations (11 percent).

So while some may be questioning the worth of a MBA degree in general, placing more emphasis on the teaching of practical and technical skills in SCM could provide a much-needed boost to many university business schools.

Another surprise for some in the supply chain world might be Michigan State’s relatively lower position on our ranking.

While Michigan State is effectively regarded as the premier institution for SCM education (it ranks either first or second on all of the undergraduate and graduate rankings compiled by Gartner, SCM World and U.S. News and World Report), we did not rank it as highly. This is largely due to the program’s more holistic, theory- and research-driven approach to teaching SCM, and its lack of emphasis on teaching related software and technology.

Only Four Undergraduate Programs Offer ERP Courses

We found that emphasis on ERP was much more prevalent at the undergraduate level than the graduate level. Four of the 15 undergraduate programs on our list offer a class devoted to learning an ERP platform, compared to just one graduate program (the University of Wisconsin).

One caveat to this finding is that many universities have partnerships with ERP vendors, such as SAP and Oracle, and offer certificate programs for those platforms. They might also offer courses outside of the business school or SCM program, which may or may not be available for SCM students.

However, because of ERP’s critical role in SCM, we wanted to note the universities that make learning those platforms a required or strongly encouraged elective course.

Although many graduate and undergraduate SCM programs don’t offer courses devoted strictly to ERP, they still have a variety of software- and technology-centric courses that deserve to be pointed out.

Modeling, analytics, information systems and logistics systems are prevalent—all of which are essential for SCM processes.

However, it is interesting to see that data mining and database management courses are also available in these SCM programs. As the strength of a firm’s supply chain is one of the most important indicators of its competitiveness, the use of data mining—the process of examining large sets of data to find information—to gain insight is becoming increasingly important.

Undergraduate: Required and Elective SCM Technology Courses
Graduate: Required and Elective SCM Technology Courses

Conclusions

While some universities fared better than others in our rankings, it’s important to note that the universities in our sample are considered the “best of the best” in other rankings not specific to technology. As such, it’s important for prospective students to carefully evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each program and how they align with their individual career goals and interests.

While Western Michigan University ranked very highly on our undergraduate tech ranking, for example, its program might not be as ideal for students who do not want to work on the manufacturing engineering side of SCM. Similarly, while Michigan State University ranked in the middle of the herd in our rankings, few dispute that it has the most well-regarded and prolific SCM program overall.

As budding supply chain professionals, it is imperative for prospective students to weigh the costs and benefits of each program before making a decision about their education.

To paraphrase an industry saying, students must ensure they are getting the “right product, in the right quantity, at the right time, at the right place and at the right cost” with regard to their education.

Methodology

Our reputation ranking was calculated by combining rankings published by Gartner, U.S. News & World Report and SCM World. Universities that appeared on all three lists were weighted higher on the list, while universities that appeared on only one or two of the lists were weighted lower. As such, the reputation rank was calculated by averaging the individual rankings together, with penalties placed on universities who only appeared on one or two lists.

It should be noted that SCM World’s rankings did not distinguish between undergraduate and graduate programs. As such, SCM World’s rankings for individual universities were applied to either or both of the reputation rankings, depending on whether the universities offer just an undergraduate program, a graduate program or both.

Here is the complete reputation ranking used in the graphs above:

Rank
Undergraduate
Graduate
1 Michigan State University Michigan State University
2 Pennsylvania State University Pennsylvania State University
3 University of Tennessee Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 Arizona State University Arizona State University
5 Ohio State University University of Tennessee
6 University of Texas at Austin Ohio State University
7 Western Michigan University Stanford University
8 Brigham Young University University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
9 Georgia Institute of Technology Georgia Institute of Technology
10 University of North Texas Carnegie Mellon University
11 Auburn University Purdue University
12 Rutgers University University of Texas at Austin
13 Carnegie Mellon University Harvard University
14 Purdue University University of Wisconsin
15 University of Maryland—College Park University of Pennsylvania

Our technology ranking was calculated by factoring the number of core SCM courses required, the number of technology-centric courses required, the number of technology-centric electives offered in the program and the depth of those technology-centric courses.

Courses were scored on a scale of one to three, based on whether they are an introductory or upper-level course and how much emphasis they place on hands-on instruction of supply chain-related software and technology, as opposed to having a more traditional lecture or discussion format. Five bonus points were awarded to universities offering a course solely devoted to learning to use a commercial ERP software platform.

As such, the technology ranking was scored on a scale of zero to 36 points, with:

  • Eighteen possible points for the cumulative course score
  • Thirteen possible points for the number of required and elective technology centric courses
  • Five points for the presence an ERP course

The universities’ positions on both the reputation rank and the technology rank were used as the coordinates for the “reputation vs. technological emphasis” comparison charts above.

Data was collected and coded from course descriptions, program curriculums and course syllabi (when available) on university websites. Software Advice is not responsible for inaccuracies due to out-of-date information on university websites.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact forrest@softwareadvice.com.

Software Advice performed and funded this research independently. Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent client vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

You may also like

WMS, SCM or ERP: Which Is Best for 3PLs?

WMS Feature Guide: A Comparison of Major Vendors’ Systems

Supply Chain Management Software Buyer Report – 2015

Compare Supply Chain Management Software