Effects of Pre-College Agricultural Background on Student Performance in College Introductory Agricultural Courses

Article excerpt

Abstract

Relationships between agricultural background and academic performance in college-level introductory agricultural courses were investigated with 268 students enrolled in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Technological University. Students were asked to complete a questionnaire that indicated whether they had been reared on a farm and had taken agricultural courses in high school. Results indicated that there was limited overall effect of farm background or high school agricultural course background on grades made by students in introductory Animal Science, Plant Science, Agricultural Engineering Technology, Agribusiness Management, or Soil Science college courses. Comparing effects of pre-college agricultural background at each grade level within each introductory course showed small and inconsistent differences. In general, the conclusion was made that some pre-college agricultural background may increase the probability of students making 'B's' or 'C's', depending on the level of difficulty of the individual course. There did not appear to be a strong relationship between background and students that made 'A's', and there appeared to be an inconsistent and limited relationship between background and students making 'D's' and "F's". English and composite ACT scores were slightly higher for students that did not have a farm background.

Introduction

Enrollment numbers and experiential background profiles of students pursuing degrees in colleges of agriculture have changed over the past 30 years. These changes have most likely been greatly affected by the increase in technological advances in agricultural production and the decrease in the proportion of the population involved in careers directly related to agriculture. Dyer et al. (1999) reported decreases in enrollment in high school and college level agricultural courses in the 1970's and 80's and subsequent slight increases in the 1990's. They also noted increasing numbers of freshmen from urban or non-farm backgrounds enrolling in college agricultural programs as indicated by Scofield (1995). Much discussion concerning changes in teaching methods and subject material to meet these challenges has taken place among college agriculture faculty members.

Many studies have been conducted to determine factors that affect academic performance of students who enroll in colleges of agriculture. Identification and evaluation of these factors can aid faculty members in developing teaching methodology that increases the chance of acceptable academic performance and perhaps student retention. Results of most studies have shown that high school core grade point averages and ACT scores were the best indicators of future college academic performance (Garton et al., 2001; 2002). Other variables, such as student gender and learning style, have shown little or no effect on academic performance of freshmen agriculture students (Bridges and Casavant, 2000; Garton et al., 2002).

Previous experiences in similar fields have been found to affect academic performance and retention in college agricultural and non-agricultural programs to varying degrees. Cole and Fanno (1999) found that students with strong backgrounds in FFA and 4-H left the Oregon State University agricultural program at as slower rate as those with no backgrounds. Bridges and Casavant (2002) found that students who had taken economics courses in high school were better able to grasp college introductory economics material.

Wildman and Torres (2002) and Donnermeyer and Kreps (1994) found that the most influential factor related to students' choice of a major in agriculture was prior agricultural experience.

Dyer et al. (1999) suggested that students without previous agricultural experiences presented new challenges to agricultural faculty in that more information about agriculture will be required. …