Auburn University’s Harbert College supply chain program earns No. 3 national ranking

Responsiveness to industry needs, internship placements among factors resulting in 14-place improvement

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Required internships and responsiveness to industry needs helped propel Auburn University to a No. 3 national ranking in Gartner Inc.’s newly released 2018 Supply Chain University Top 25.

The program, housed within the Harbert College of Business, jumped 14 spots in Gartner’s survey and analysis of undergraduate and advanced supply chain degree programs in North America. Auburn ranked 17th nationally in 2016. Gartner’s analysis, released every two years, weighs such factors as program scope and curriculum, internship participation rates, industry recruiter ratings and starting salaries for new graduates.

“This tells us that our hard work and student development focus, as well as our efforts to align with industry needs, are paying off,” said Brian Gibson, Wilson Family Professor of Supply Chain Management in the Harbert College and executive director of Auburn University’s Center for Supply Chain Innovation. “We’ve listened to employers, research center sponsors and industry experts to get feedback on what we need to be teaching and where we need to be headed with our program. The number three ranking is a byproduct of a faculty team that listens to industry partners and aligns course content with the changing dynamics of supply chain management.”

Gartner, a U.S.-based research and advisory firm, shares its undergraduate supply chain program rankings every two years. Penn State topped the 2018 list, while Rutgers University took second. In rising to No. 3 in the national ranking, Auburn was, according to Gartner Research Vice President Dana Stiffler, “the biggest mover” and “the upstart in our rankings.” Gartner gathered information on 67 American and Canadian programs and surveyed 3,000 industry professionals. Gartner asked industry professionals to list the five programs from which they regularly recruit employees and to rank the top five programs based on their own perceptions.

The Harbert College’s program topped the Gartner survey’s “program scope” category and shared third place in the “industry value leaders” category. Stiffler said improvement in the rankings can be influenced by a willingness to adjust curriculum to meet, or even anticipate, industry need.

“Supply chain jobs are changing, and that’s been true for the last 10 years,” Stiffler said. “A lot of schools have added additional degrees that are on business analytics and a lot of supply chain majors are electing to do a minor concentration in an analytics area, which is a very attractive package for a hiring company.”

Auburn’s program was one of the first nationally to require internships as a requirement for graduation. Currently, 95 percent of the Harbert College’s supply chain management majors gain at least 300 hours of experience with an organization through internships that must meet rigorous standards. That emphasis on practical experience, the development of leadership and problem-solving skills and the ability to contribute on day one translates into an average starting salary in excess of $57,000 for new graduates and makes them highly sought by Fortune 500 companies and start-ups.

Marcia Gibson, coordinator of Harbert’s Supply Chain Management Professional Experience program, vets internship options for students, ensuring that they receive the highest-quality experience possible. “Supply Chain interns must acquire an experience that is considered relevant to our industry partners. Internships are vetted to ensure that they include professional-level activities that develop the skills desired by the industry. Nearly all internships include a supply chain-focused project managed by the intern,” she said. “Our goal is that each student’s internship will add new tools to their tool belt.”

When Ashley Hubbs, a May 2018 graduate, first learned the internship was required she admitted she was worried about the prospect of “losing my summer.” Instead of time at the beach, the Athens, Alabama, native spent the summer off working as an account specialist at Schneider Logistics in Dallas.

“It was very beneficial because I got to experience actual industry,” she explained. “Employers always tell you, ‘We want you to have experience.’ This gives you that leg up. We get to experience industry and it sets you up for success.”

Other factors working in Auburn’s favor include the use of company projects and case competitions in supply chain courses, the emergence of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation, which works closely with leading companies and contributes research examining industry trends, the introduction of an annual supply chain management symposium for industry professionals in 2017 and the growth of a biannual supply chain management career fair for students.

Stiffler said the Top 25 represents programs that have demonstrated a commitment to “building a better pipeline” with industry. “The field is getting much more competitive and programs are improving,” she said. “All of the boats are rising.”

The Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. World-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice in emerging business disciplines. The college’s alumni, friends and corporate partners actively support and engage faculty and students to integrate business theory with practical experience and instill the level of professional proficiency and personal integrity demanded by employers around the globe. Learn more at