Universities see growth in animal science enrollment
By Jennifer Carrico
The good news for agriculture is that more and more students are showing an interest in learning about the industry even if they didn't grow up on a farm.
"We can't just rely on the farm kids carrying us into the future," said Iowa State University Associate Professor of Animal Science Jodi Sterle. "We love our farm kids, but we have to be inclusive instead of exclusive when looking for ag and animal science students."
The trend over the past 10 years with animal science departments at major land-grant universities has been an increase in enrollment. Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, Colorado State University, just to name a few, have all seen increased enrollment.
The increases have added some challenges for these universities, but these are challenges that people like Don Boggs, associate dean of the Kansas State University College of Agriculture, are glad to have.
"We have an excellent transfer program, with 14 community colleges in Kansas with agriculture programs. That makes Kansas State very attractive as a place to further their education," he said.
Boggs said 35 percent of the students in their agriculture college are transfer students.
One of the challenges is to simply find enough classroom space for offering additional sections in larger courses--a problem Sterle said Iowa State has as well.
Both Iowa State and Kansas State rely on faculty to be academic advisors to their students. This has also created some of a challenge, as those faculty members have to find enough time to wear many hats with their positions--teaching, advising, and research.
"We don't want to run our faculty too thin, but they know the importance of being a mentor to these students, so they find the time to do what they need to do," said Boggs.
Iowa State's animal science department has had great support from the university when it comes to hiring more faculty to meet their growing student enrollment.
"These students are coming from all walks of life. We want them to get all they need here at Iowa State, so they are ready to be a good employee and be knowledgeable about animal agriculture," said Iowa State University Animal Science Department Chair Maynard Hogberg.
He explained the importance of having a supportive university to help provide the needed resources to teach students about animal agriculture.
"We rely heavily on our teaching farms to give students the hands-on experiences they need with the different species--beef, dairy, pork, sheep and horse," said Hogberg.
Sterle added that the department has also kept the laboratory classes at 25 students or less, for students to get a more personal experience after being in a large lecture class.
Kansas State also relies on teaching farms for the students as well as smaller laboratory classes.
"We are fortunate to still have livestock teaching farms for students to learn more about each of the species. These can even benefit farm kids who only have experience with one of the species," said Boggs.
Iowa State also has a peer-mentoring program, which pairs up an upper-classman with 10 freshmen. This gives the new students a chance to have a more experienced student to go to if they have questions.
Kansas State has an identified student services representative in each department to assist students with basic questions and concerns.
Changes in demographics
Iowa State animal science first-year graduate student Sara Morine said the demographics of the students in the animal science department have changed considerably in the four years she has been a student there.
"There are definitely more city kids who are animal science students now. They have the desire to learn about the industry even though they don't have the experiences on the farm," said Morine.
Sterle said because of this change in demographics, the faculty shouldn't assume that students know anything about animals when they come to the university.
The addition of students and changes in where the students are from has led to some changes in curriculum as well. Classes have been added in livestock handling, welfare and safety. Hogberg said changes have also been made in the specific species classes by making them sophomore-level classes and then offering more advanced classes for those species at the senior level.
"We don't want to reduce the number of credit hours required to graduate, but we also realize we can't keep adding required classes to the curriculum and taking away electives," said Sterle. "There has to be a good balance."
Iowa State will be adding a laboratory animal science class for students to learn how to take samples for laboratory testing and other important caretaking of these type of animals. This will be a good option for students wanting to be able to work in a veterinary-type field without actually attending veterinary school.
Kansas State has recently added a bioscience/biotechnology option for their animal science major, and they have created undergraduate certificate programs in beef cattle ranch management, beef cattle feedlot management, meat science and equine science to allow students the opportunity to develop a higher degree of specialization in this area.
With many students entering the animal science curriculum at all agricultural universities having a goal of going to veterinary school, Boggs said it is important for all students to realize that not everyone will make it to that level and they need to explore other options.
"We like to be sure our students are very well rounded," he said. "There is more discussion happening surrounding an emphasis in business for these students. They need life skills, communication skills, problem solving and critical thinking in order to be a good employee."
Both universities stress the importance of work experience and internships. Boggs said some of the Kansas State students have as many as three internships during their time in college. They can also get involved with research as an undergraduate, which helps them gain skills and make decisions about their future careers.
Morine said working on campus or at a college farm is a key to understanding what students want to do in the future. She currently serves as an animal science research assistant, besides attending graduate classes in ruminant nutrition.
All these experiences and helping students learn about animal agriculture is very important to Sterle.
"Sixty percent of the animal science students here at Iowa State don't have a farm background. We want them to leave here understanding the importance livestock and agriculture play in their every day lives," she said. "It's this 60 percent who help our industry become credible to the general public."
Both Iowa State and Kansas State are proud of their placement rates for animal science students. Iowa State takes has a 98 percent placement rate within the first six months of graduation.
"Students in agriculture are getting jobs, where other students may not be. That, in itself, has attracted many students to our industry," said Boggs.
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.