Times Are Changing and Agricultural Students Are Too
The days of hiring farm kids with college degrees are numbered. Not only are there not enough to go around, but also today’s graduates are more likely to be from a suburb, a city or perhaps a rural community. Ethnicity and gender of agricultural students are also in transition.
“We know anecdotally that more and more students are coming from urban or suburban backgrounds, which is natural given our overall population,” said Wendy Fink, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). “The base simply isn’t there like it used to be. We have to look at urban kids for the next generation filling the employment pipeline.”
Fink cited outreach efforts to urban areas at many agricultural schools as well as to “under represented” populations, students that traditionally haven’t attended land-grant universities or pursued agricultural career training. APLU supports those efforts, working with its members on policy, student recruitment and stakeholder issues.
Changes in the Student Body
Those efforts appear to be working. Bill Richardson directs the Food, Agriculture and Education Information System (FAEIS), a USDA-funded research effort that tracks the supply side of agriculture and natural resource graduates. Richardson reported that degrees in agriculture increased by 16.1 percent, going from 51,728 in 2004 to 60,379 in 2011. Over the same period, enrollment demographics changed significantly. Hispanic student undergraduate enrollment in colleges of agriculture and natural resources increased by 107.2 percent. African American student enrollment increased by 41.8 percent, and Asian student enrollment increased by 57.3 percent.
Gender is also changing. While male students in agricultural programs traditionally outnumbered females, that changed in 2008. From 2009 on, more undergraduate females enrolled than males, with female enrollment increasing by 19.9 percent and males by 9.1 percent from 2009 to 2011.
Richardson noted that even with higher rates of female and minority enrollment, the overall undergraduate numbers need substantial improvement. “The ag economy is great,” said Richardson. “The jobs are there, and that works its way down to the undergraduate level. In 10 years time, there are going to be so very many jobs out there as baby boomers age.”
Fink mirrored Richardson’s concerns. “Our efforts in the past five years include laying out a roadmap to grow interest from prospective students, as well as identify employment opportunities,” she said. “We see that we are not producing enough graduates to fill the roles that are out there at the undergraduate level and certainly not at the graduate level. Students are taken into the workforce as soon as they graduate and often with multiple job offers.”