Is education finally catching up to DECA?

Dean Davis

Published January 1, 1992  | January 1992 issue

As America's schools struggle to meet the demands of the future, countless new programs, paradigms and curricula are touted as solutions to present educational problems. Ironically, many high schools already have a program in place that not only provides the components that some experts ask for, it also offers over 40 years of experience to back it up. That program is DECA, Distributive Education Clubs of America.

Focusing primarily on the marketing and merchandising of goods and services in a free enterprise market system, DECA evolved from the melding of high school marketing, retailing and merchant clubs. Prior to 1947, most of these clubs were extracurricular and provided students a link between school business classes and after school work. With the help and authority of the U.S. Office of Education and the American Vocational Association, DECA was created in 1947 as the unifying organization for distributive education clubs around the country.

As a national organization, DECA has created a program based on a co- curricular philosophy that links the workplace with the school. At the core of this philosophy is the idea that students' competency should be measured and rewarded and that the link between the classroom and the workplace should be very close. James Whealon, Montana state director for vocational education and long-time DECA adviser says, "The tie-in with academics and actual hands-on training is a real strength of the DECA program. Students with work experience on their resume can easily jump into the workplace."

In addition to the competencies needed for successful employment, DECA also measures and rewards achievement through a series of state and national marketing and merchandising competitions. Used as motivational tools to focus on specific learnings, these competitions are supported by local merchants as well as national corporations.

At the national level, competition is underwritten by corporations that generally award winners with cash prizes or equivalent stock portfolios. For example, National Auto Parts Association awards cash prizes in the vehicles and petroleum marketing competition, while J.C. Penney Co. Inc. offers stock portfolios for general merchandising competition.

Even though DECA has existed for over 40 years, there are elements that can hamper the success of a club. According to Whealon, economies of scale affect a club's success. "A community needs to be of a certain size to handle DECA activity." If the workplace component of the program is not available, the academic aspect has little chance of being as effective. Whealon also says that the health of local, state and national economies has an impact on local clubs.

DECA is one of a number of organizations created to enhance business education in high schools. Others include Junior Achievement; the Joint Council on Economic Education, a non-profit business/education partnership with state offices; the Business Economics Education Foundation of Minnesota (BEEF), a non-profit association created to link business practices with established curricula; and the Academy of Finance, an organization that was created to provide special programs to prepare students for careers in banking and securities.