The following article was written by four Midwestern deans of agriculture, including Jay T. Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean, College of Agriculture, Purdue University; Robert J. Hauser, Dean, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois; Bobby D. Moser, Vice President for Agricultural Administration & Dean, College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University; and Wendy K. Wintersteen, Endowed Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University.
Given the outstanding enrollment and job placement experience in our respective colleges, it was a surprise when three of the five majors "highlighted" in a recent Yahoo Education article by Terrence Loose entitled “College Majors that are Useless” were programs in the agricultural sciences: agriculture, animal sciences, and horticulture.
Before drawing his conclusions, we wish that Mr. Loose had done more homework beyond what appears to be a cursory review of Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers and the repurposing of a similar headline from The Daily Beast a year ago.
Other sources suggest that not only is the need for graduates in these programs growing, but there is a shortage of graduates in the agricultural, food, and natural resource sciences:
- Broad definition of agriculture. The Yahoo Education article equated "agriculture" with "farm management." Farm management is an important field of study, but defining agriculture only as farm management is much too narrow. Completely ignored are other important areas under the umbrella of "agriculture" including food science, plant science, and soil science, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics report predicts job growth should be faster than the average for all occupations, and where job opportunities are expected to be good over the next decade, particularly infood science and technology and in agronomy. And, of course, the "agriculture" umbrella also covers agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, animal sciences, natural resource and environmental sciences, and agricultural education, to name a few.
- Very low unemployment rates. Recent (Jan. 5, 2012) online posts (New York Times), and NPR’s StateImpact Ohio) cited a just released report by the GeorgetownUniversity Center on Education and the Workforce which found agriculture and natural resources to be among the fields with the lowest unemployment rates - lower than business, engineering, law, and and several others.
- Shortage of college graduates to fill need. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Renewable Energy, and the Environment, 2010-2015report, projects that 53,500 qualified graduates will be available for about 54,400jobs annually the agricultural and food systems, renewable energy and the environment. About 55 percent of those graduates (29,300) are expected to earn degrees from colleges of agriculture and life sciences, forestry and natural resources, and veterinary medicine. The other 45 percent, an estimated 24,200 graduates, will come from allied disciplines including biological sciences,engineering, health sciences, business, and communication.
- No stronger sector for recruiting. Dr. Phil Gardner, Director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, recently wrote, “No sector appears stronger than agriculture/food processing with an increase in hires of approximately 14 percent” in the annual Recruiting Trends report.
- Vital economic growth engine. A recent study conducted by theBattelle Institute, an independent research organization, found that agriculture and agbiosciences are generating vital economic growth and job creation, particularly in the North Central United States, which includes all four or our respective states. This Midwest area, once dubbed the “Rust Belt,” is becoming the breeding ground for new “green” agriculture-related jobs as the agriculture-driven industry is poised to expand into new markets such as health, specialty crops, biofuels and bio-based products.
- New areas of opportunity. The article completely misses an important trend of interest in small scale, local foodproduction and those who want to become part of agriculture by launching these types of businesses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report from which Mr. Loose took some of his numbers even points out that “…an increasing number of small-scale farmers have developed successful market niches that involve personalized, direct contact with their customers. Many are finding opportunities in horticulture and organic food production, which are among the fastest growing segments of agriculture.”