University eliminates undergraduate agriculture education major, low enrollment cited
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 23:10
Throughout high school, freshman agriculture education major Caylee Conner took several animal science classes where she learned that many of her fellow students at Newark High School were unaware of where their food comes from. She became a student advisor her senior year, teaching underclassmen about animals and food science. At the end of her senior year, she was approached by a teacher who said, “Caylee, this is you.”
She had found exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Coming to the university as a declared agriculture education major, Conner was looking forward to start taking classes in what she said she believed to be one of the nation’s best agriculture programs offered in higher education. She was ecstatic up until the day she learned she would be one of the last students to pursue the major at the university.
Nancy Gainer, Communication Manager for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the strategic planning process began last January. She said the discussion of eliminating the major began in November 2011 when a committee that included input from three agricultural educators from Delaware was tasked with studying the major and suggesting ways it could be changed to be kept viable.
According to the university’s registrar’s database, 11 of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources 733 undergraduates are currently enrolled in the major. Two new students were admitted in fall 2012, and three students admitted in fall 2013. Gainer said there is also not enough faculty support to preserve this area of the college, and with numbers declining, Mark Rieger, the dean of CANR, decided to close the major to future enrollment.
Kellie Michaud, former president of the Delaware Association of Agricultural Educators, said agriculture education at any university around the country is going to be a smaller major than most of the other agricultural majors.
“With that being said, it doesn’t necessarily equate to unpopularity or even unimportance,” Michaud said. “Quite the contrary, those that are in the major are extremely passionate about agriculture and teaching. Their value to the future is of a critical nature.”
Conner, still in her first year of the major, is guaranteed to graduate with an agriculture education major. Gainer said the college is still completely committed to the students currently enrolled in the major. Those students currently enrolled in the major will be provided all of the courses, resources and advisement needed to graduate with a degree in agricultural education over the next four years, she said.
“It’s nice to know that we are grandfathered in, but new incoming freshmen don’t have that option,” Connor said. “It literally just makes me sad. There’s no other way to describe it.”
Conner said she is hoping to become a high school teacher in this subject area, and she fears for the future of agriculture education.
Michaud said of the 66 current agriculture education teachers in the state, 43 graduated from the university’s program.
“Many, like myself, have a master’s degree from UD in the area of agriculture education,” Michaud said. “We have a vested interest in the continuation of the major.”
In light of the major closing, however, are many alternatives for prospective students to consider, Gainer said. A key factor in the decision to close the major to further enrollment was the availability of alternate routes to high school teaching careers in the absence of a BS program in agriculture education, she said.
Students who want to become agricultural education teachers and teach in the state continue to have two pathways to do so, Gainer said. The Alternative Routes to Certification program and CANR will also continue to support the master’s degree program in agriculture education, providing a post-graduation route to a career in agricultural teaching for students with various BS degree credentials, she said. The school is also exploring a “4+1” program strategy that will allow students to earn a BS degree in one of several disciplines in the college and an MS degree in agriculture education in just 5 years, Gainer said.
Gainer said interest in some of the traditional majors offered in colleges of agriculture and related sciences has waned nationwide over the last few decades.
“Enrollment growth in such colleges in recent years can be attributed to revitalizing the curriculum to match student interests and societal need for graduates more closely,” Gainer said. “This is precisely what the CANR is doing as it develops a new strategic plan for the future.”
Conner said she questions whether there will be agriculture education programs in the state 20 years from now.
Michaud said she shares this fear. While we are diversified, she said, agriculture is still fundamentally one of the top industries in the state of Delaware.
“Teaching our youth the importance of this industry is critical if we hope to grow the industry in Delaware and feed our country in the future,” Michaud said. “This simply cannot be done if we do not have highly qualified teachers coming out of the university each year to go into our schools and teach our students. UD has served this role for decades.”