Perceptions of Agriculture and Perceived Enrollment Barriers to Agricultural Programs of Select Southern New Jersey High School Students

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to assess the level of awareness of agricultural organizations and careers and perceived barriers to enrollment in agricultural programs of high school students in southern New Jersey. Tlie students surveyed were selected based on teacher willingness to participate in the study. Therefore, the results are specific to this sample and should not be generalized to the larger population. The results showed the selected respondents were primarily female, white/Caucasian, lived in suburban areas, and had no family members involved in agriculture. Males were found to differ significantly from females in their awareness of outreach programs related to agriculture, and the same was found between whites and non-whites. The study also revealed that the selected respondents had a general lack of awareness in careers in agriculture. Three barriers emerged as the highest ranking barriers to enrollment in agriculture programs: lack of contact with program recruiters, interest in agriculture, and lack of opportunity while growing up to work on a farm. Males and females differed significantly in their perception of "image of agriculture barriers" and a significant difference was also found between whites and non-whites in their perception of "individual related barriers" to enrollment in agricultural programs.

Introduction

The significant decline in the number of agricultural education students has raised much concern in the last few decades (Mallory and Sommer, 1986; Scott and Lavergne, 2004; Wildman and Torres, 2001), while the opportunities in agriculture and agriculture-related careers are continuing to increase (Jones and Larke, 2001). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that between 2010 and 2015, there will be 54,400 annual employment openings for individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees within the agriculture, food, and renewable natural resources sectors, creating a large demand for anticipated graduates with college degrees or related work experiences, (Goecker, et al" 2010). However, as opportunities in agriculture-related fields are continuing to expand, the number of individuals pursuing agricultural careers through college is steadily declining, especially within minority populations (Jones and Larke, 2001).

Thisdeclinecanbeattributedtomanypeoplehaving little agricultural knowledge due to large populations moving from rural farm areas to more urbanized areas, which supports the need for agricultural education in today's schools (Gibbs, 2005; Hughes and Barrick, 1993). Bricknell (1996) supported these views stating that "young people [reared] in urban centers and suburbia have little direct contact with agricultural lands and ways of life and thus know very little about where their food comes from and how it is produced" (p. 107). Although more populations are continuing to move out of the cities, very few are moving to raral areas. As a result, there is still a gap in the knowledge and involvement in agriculture of these populations. For the populations remaining in urban areas, the gap is even larger and continuing to grow as more generations know less and less about agriculture.

Today, approximately 94%ofpublic school students receive no formal in-school instruction regarding agriculture and natural resource systems (Talbert et al., 2007). Early development of agricultural literacy and exposure to opportunities should be implemented to broaden students' perceptions of agriculture (Scott and Lavergne, 2004). According to Powell, et al. (2008), agricultural literacy should be viewed as a driving force in the K-12 curriculum by thematically weaving agricultural materials through academic courses. Blackburn (1999) supported this view by stating that teaching agriculture to students at an earlier age may help develop a better understanding and perception of agriculture as students get older. Witli a higher level of knowledge and a more positive perception of agriculture, students may be more interested and encouraged to pursue a career in agriculture (Cannon, et al. …