Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Agricultural Experiences and Factors of Undergraduates Who Enroll in a College of Agriculture

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Agricultural Experiences and Factors of Undergraduates Who Enroll in a College of Agriculture

Article excerpt

Introduction

California agriculture is a billion-dollar industry relying heavily on colleges of agriculture to produce industry-ready graduates. Problem solvers and critical thinkers with agriculture-specific skills are required to solve tomorrow's problems (Goecker et al., 1999), while producing food and fiber as efficiently as possible. Academic leaders must look ahead to determine if colleges of agriculture are poised to help industry fill these positions.

There were 1,789,772 students enrolled in 1,304 California high schools during the 2011-2012 academic year (California Department of Education, 2012), with over 300 of these high schools offering agricultural education programs and serving over 70,000 students. Despite providing opportunities for secondary students to learn about and develop skills in agriculture, there are many high schools without agriculture programs, leaving nearly 1,000 high schools and 1.7 million students with no access to formal agriculture instruction during their high school experience. Many of the state's 59 counties have a 4-H program offered through their county extension offices, providing non-formal opportunities for students to develop their interest and skills in agriculture. Even with 4-H having a larger reach than high school agriculture programs, it should be noted not all 4-H programs offer agriculture topics and the curriculum and quality of agriculture programming can be uneven among clubs.

In 2011, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo's (Cal Poly) College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science's (CAFES) had an enrollment of 3,366. Both agriculture industry partners and CAFES faculty have observed the students entering CAFES possessed fewer agriculture experiences and skills than their predecessors. They have also lamented the increasing pressure to develop industry-ready students when the gaps are ever wider between their experiences and skills entering college and what are required upon graduation. This situation has faculty and industry wondering if experience and skill level prior to entering CAFES should have greater value on admissions applications.

The bulk of the current admittance system for Cal Poly specifically considers secondary school cumulative GPA, coupled with scores on SAT and/or ACT. The factors of work experience and leadership experience are simply yes/no boxes requiring no detail or statement about level of accomplishment. In addition, students applying to Cal Poly must apply to a specific major as there is no general studies option. Students are either accepted or denied into that specific major.

The Agricultural Education and Communication Department's Advisory Committee prompted the study. The purpose of this study was to determine the agricultural and leadership experiences current CAFES undergraduates possessed prior to enrolling in CAFES and determine what influenced students to enroll in a CAFES major. Specific objectives were to determine:

* Was agriculture coursework an option at the high school they attended?

* If so, who enrolled in high school agriculture programs and to what extent?

* Who and what influenced their decisions to enroll in a CAFES undergraduate program(s)?

* What experiences did these students have with the college prior to enrolling in CAFES' undergraduate program(s)?

Conceptual Framework

Researchers have investigated what students identify as factors in their decision to enroll in a college of agriculture. Wildman and Torres (2001) collected data related to five influential categories: agricultural exposure, family and friends, college of agriculture recruitment activities, professionals and job considerations. The agriculture industry experiences and FFA and 4-H experiences students had prior to post-secondary enrollment were the highest ranked factors influencing selection of major. These findings support the work conducted by Dyer, Lacey and Osborne (1996). …

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