High School Students' Perceptions of a College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources1

Article excerpt

Abstract

Declining enrollment in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources fueled discussions about changing the name of the college as a means of reversing the trend. In spring 2005, a comprehensive study was launched to assess the perceptions of key college populations. This study relates to one of those four populationsresident, college-bound high school seniors. A survey developed by Kansas State University was a starting point for the development of a mailed survey to evaluate the college's image, the influence of the college's name, the level of awareness of program offerings and career opportunities, and to identify actionable changes. A sample (4,500) stratified by county classification yielded 479 responses (10.6%). High school seniors were generally unaware about the college and the opportunities it offered to students, and were unsure if they would recommend the college to prospective students. Rural students were more likely to consider attending a community college and then transferring than were micropolitan or metropolitan students. Changes in university and college marketing strategies were recommended, and it was concluded that insufficient evidence existed to warrant changing the name of the college at this time. Replication of the study in three to five years was recommended.

Introduction

By 2004, it had become increasingly clear that the trend of declining enrollments in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) at the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) needed to be reversed. After a number of faculty discussions on the matter occurred and a seminar on the changing demographics of the state was presented to CASNR faculty, a subcommittee of CASNR Faculty Advisory Council representatives was formed to follow-up on these issues, with special emphasis given to the impact of the college's name and image in recruitment of students. Soon thereafter, funds were made available to survey students and college stakeholders. Arrangements were made to have staff from the Food Processing Center at UNL with market assessment expertise lead the development of survey instruments and conduct the surveys. The faculty subcommittee was charged with overseeing the survey process and presenting the results and recommendations to CASNR faculty.

In the resulting study, this team surveyed sample populations within four basic categories: collegebound Nebraska high school students, current UNL students, current UNL faculty, and CASNR stakeholders. This paper presents results from the survey of college-bound Nebraska high school students. While all the populations provided useful feedback, the survey of college-bound Nebraska high school students was of greatest interest since it provided the most direct information on impacts for recruiting students into CASNR.

Theoretical Framework

In the fiercely competitive market of higher education, the importance of institutional image and identity cannot be underestimated (Treadwell, 2003). As institutions of higher education attempt to attract students into their academic folds, having 'names that sell' can give some colleges and universities an edge over others (Finder, 2005). Nowhere in academia is the importance of institutional image as vital as it is in colleges of agriculture (Diament, 2005). As the number of agriculture students has systematically dwindled nationwide, colleges of agriculture have been engaged in a veritable fight for survival (Diament, 2005).

In a survey by Fields, Hoiberg, and Othman (2003) targeting Academic Associate Deans in Colleges of Agriculture, almost half (47%) stated their college name revealed the make-up of their undergraduate programs. While it is critical to understand the impression agriculture may have on internal audiences, it is more important to recognize how outside viewers interpret undergraduate programs that originate from colleges of agriculture. …