By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Enrollments at agriculture colleges nationwide continue to rise, and university officials credit the increase to the opportunities students have after graduation.
“Ag students do have a very good chance of getting a job in agriculture,” said Bill Richardson, project manager of the USDA’s Food, Agriculture and Education Information System (FAEIS). “There’s a lot of good jobs out there, including in nutrition, food safety, the environment and energy.”
FAEIS, which began at Texas A&M University in 1983, keeps statistics on the number of students enrolled and degrees awarded, in about 150 four-year agriculture programs across the country. Virginia Tech began managing the program in 2002.
“Just as the general student population has grown, so has the growth in ag colleges,” Richardson noted. “Environmental sciences is growing much faster, but we’re finding that traditional farming programs are staying static.”
Only 10-15 percent of the students enrolled in the University of Tennessee’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are in what would be considered traditional programs, said Caula Beyl, dean of the college.
“It’s not cows, sows and plows anymore,” she explained. “It’s so much more. There’s not as many in production agriculture, but there’s a great deal of interest in ag communications, ag business, biosystems engineering, forestry, wildlife, plant pathology and food science. And alternative fuels such as biofuels are popular because of all the publicity nationally.”
Jobs in a variety of areas are available to students with degrees from an agriculture college, Beyl noted. “You can get a very lucrative job with a bachelor’s of science degree. There are opportunities in the biofuels industry, in food science, where a graduate might work in food processing or food safety. Food science is a growing area for us. Job growth in ag forestry has also been tremendous.”
Food science is also an increasingly popular area of study at Purdue University’s College of Agriculture.
“Food science is one of our many outstanding programs,” said John G. Graveel, interim associate dean and director of the Office of Academic Programs for the college. “With a food science degree, you can walk out the door and get a job. It’s pretty competitive. You can make $43,000 to start.
“Potential students are finally starting to figure out agriculture has some opportunities. People are recognizing that.”
Purdue officials are seeing a change in the backgrounds of students attending the college, Graveel said.
“The number of students coming from farms is declining. We’re seeing a lot more suburban kids. We still get a fair number of kids from the farm, but it’s slowly changing,” he explained.
The same change is happening at The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“While we still have a strong base in rural areas, we are seeing more students from urban areas,” said Linda Martin, associate dean and director of academic affairs for the college. “They come in with different perspectives. They’ve developed an interest over the years in subjects they have not grown up with.”
Enrollments at the major land grant universities in Farm World-coverage states have increased over the years, following the national trend, according to numbers provided by the colleges.
For fall term 2010, Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences had 3,298 undergraduates, up from 3,082 the year before. Purdue had 2,675 undergraduates in its agriculture program, up from 2,575 in fall 2009.
OSU’s agriculture program had 2,150 undergraduates in fall 2010, up from 2,022 last fall. UT had 1,019 undergraduates enrolled in its agriculture college, up from 950 last year.
While the numbers are down for fall 2010 at Michigan State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, both have shown growth over the past several years. MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources had 2,569 undergraduates enrolled in fall term 2010, down from last year’s 2,637. In fall 2000, it had 2,030 undergraduates.
At UoI College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, fall 2010 undergrad enrollment was 2,323, down from 2,350 last year. The college had 2,230 undergraduates enrolled in fall 2000.
Fall term 2010 numbers won’t be available from the University of Kentucky’s (UK) College of Agriculture until November, but in fall 2009, the college had 2,185 enrolled in its bachelor’s program, up from 2,130 in 2008. In fall 2000, the college had 1,082.
ISU’s enrollment hit a low point in 1987 at the end of the farm crisis, and has occasionally bounced around a bit, but has been steady the last five years, said Tom Polito, director of student services for the university’s agriculture college.
“There are so many more opportunities for our graduates,” he explained. “We have a placement ratio of 98 to 99 percent within three to six months of graduation. Tremendous opportunities are available with the degrees we offer, and in the last five years, we’ve done a much better job of telling that story. It’s really more marketing than recruitment.”
Seventy to 75 percent of the college’s graduates remain in Iowa, which is pretty high for the university as a whole, Polito said. College graduates also find jobs all over the country and internationally.
There are a wide range of things a student can do with a College of Agriculture degree from Purdue, Graveel noted.
“You can be in the field working with crops, or you could work for Monsanto in molecular genetics. You could work for NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) as a soil conservationist. You can work in food science. It’s all pretty amazing,” he said.
For the last five years, 91 percent of students who graduate from OSU’s agriculture program have found a job within six months, Martin said.
“There’s a high demand for students who graduate from our college. There are a lot of great opportunities. Our students also do internships, and when they graduate, they have their foot in the door already.”
Ag econ and animal science are popular programs at Purdue, Graveel said. Food science and programs offered under the School of Environment & Natural Resources are the most popular at OSU, Martin said.
At ISU, animal science – which includes dairy and pre-veterinary – has the largest enrollment, Polito said. Students are also interested in ag business, ag studies, natural resources, industrial technology and biosystems engineering.