As students increasingly gravitate to study subjects they feel offer a clear path to respectable employment upon graduation, many university agriculture and animal science programs are seeing healthy application and enrollment numbers. Ag-related college majors appeal to a broader populace of students, university officials say, because the industry as a whole is growing at an attractive pace and practical skills taught at the college level can help develop a career in high-demand areas like research in animal health.
At traditional agriculture powerhouses like Penn State University, enrollment is up greater than 40 percent since 2004, and some programs have even more impressive statistics. At many smaller institutions, enrollment has more than doubled over the last five years.
Interest in agriculture and animal sciences has been running extremely high over the last few years, according to many university officials. While most note that a general foundation in the discipline is still of great importance, there’s been an increased emphasis on specialization. Many programs encourage students to focus on a particular area like genetics, nutrition, or physiology because, university officials contend, they are going to be better positioned in the job market than someone without specialized knowledge.
“Student interest has never been higher,” says Elizabeth Walker, Associate Professor of Agriculture at Missouri State University, “We have seen an increase in young people entering the MSU School of Agriculture over the past several years. Our student numbers are high, and the trend indicates that we will continue to see an increase in student numbers. In addition, there is a trend within the general public to ‘know their farmer’ so the interest in agriculture overall has increased.”
Students: Start with the End in Mind
With college costs at an all-time high and rising at a faster rate than inflation, career guidance professionals emphasize the importance of selecting the right institution and program. The advice almost universally is to view the selection as an important investment decision, with the return on that investment judged by the ultimate opportunities afforded to the graduate.
“It used to be that you could head off to college and simply figure it out after a few semesters; that you’d take a course along the way, it would provoke interest, and then you’d explore that area further,” says Becky Faber, Senior Career Advisor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “That kind of approach is less acceptable and less common today,” she says. “It’s ideal for an incoming student to establish his or her interests while in high school, have a general sense of the opportunities in that field and then focus on programs that will be a good fit and best position the individual [for the job market] come senior year.”
Editor’s Note: Neil Feldman is a freelance writer from Whitehall Station, NJ.