May 2015
Youth Matters

A Safe Investment

Auburn University Animal Sciences student Audrey Pugh shows her dairy calf at Little International.  

With a growing world population, a degree in agriculture guarantees a future for graduates.

A college degree is truly an investment for parents and students alike, no matter who pays the tuition. One of the biggest worries for parents is if their student will be able to get a job with his or her degree after graduation. Multiple articles in the past few years have stated that agriculture is a dying industry and a useless degree. People argue that a degree in agriculture does not provide the guarantee of a job, but there is astounding evidence discrediting these assumptions.

"We are going to be trying to feed 9 billion people by 2050 with the same number of acres of arable land. The opportunities for a person who has a graduate degree in agriculture are great now, but they are going to be really, really excellent going into the future," said Timothy Burcham, dean of agriculture and technology at Arkansas State University.

No matter what people think, everyone has to eat, and as we all know that is not possible without agriculture. This in itself provides the agriculture industry with a solid foundation for the future. There are three organizations that especially prove that agriculture is a growing industry and provides jobs; these are The National FFA Organization, 4-H and land-grant universities.

The National FFA Organization is growing exponentially, which shows that there is still a strong interest in agriculture.

Robert Giblin, writer for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said, "Millennials are often generations removed from any direct connection to farming. Yet, record numbers of young people are putting on iconic, blue corduroy FFA jackets as the organization has become a pipeline for highly attractive careers. Membership in FFA reached 610,240 in 2014 - that’s an increase of 30,000 in just 2 years."

One of the main reasons for this growth is that the National FFA Organization expanded from just "cows, sows and plows" to explore all of the opportunities the agriculture field has to offer. The National FFA Organization now prepares its members for more than 300 agricultural careers such as traditional agriculture to law, business, marketing, food science, communications, education and many others.

Another organization that has continued to grow and nourish interest in agriculture is 4-H. A recent Tufts University study found that 4-H members are four times more likely than the rest of their peers to contribute to their communities during grades 7-12; twice as likely to be civically active in grades 8-12; and twice as likely to participate in science, engineering and computer technology programs during non-school hours in grades 10-12. It also concluded that senior 4-H girls are three times as likely to take part in extracurricular science programs. The 4-H program has also expanded their focus from strictly traditional agriculture to a broader focus on all aspects of agriculture including leadership training along with other career skills. Both of these organizations are helping prepare young people for a successful life in agriculture; they are also helping to prove that agriculture is thriving.

Dr. Brandon Wilson said, "I think any student looking at colleges should consider job placement after they graduate."

Obviously, job placement is extremely important. It is one of the main reasons most students attend a university. So, therefore, the third piece of evidence comes from Auburn University, a land-grant university. Why does information from Auburn matter? Because while FFA, 4-H and other organizations can help prepare youth for a career, their college is where they will find their career. But rest assured, it is not just Auburn that offers these opportunities, it is any land-grant university. Auburn University College of Agriculture assures nervous parents that their students will receive all of the necessary skills to graduate with a degree and a job offer. Auburn University has multiple degree options with100 percent job placement after graduation. Graduates of certain majors have three to five job offers by the time they graduate.

Giblin writes, "… Undergraduate enrollment in agricultural programs increased 20 percent from 2006 to 2011, up to 146,000 students. Most colleges and universities report that this growth is continuing."

It makes no sense for that number of students to study agriculture if it is not a useful and necessary field. Studies have proved that there are double the job openings in agriculture each year than there are graduates. That should be proof enough that agriculture is still a viable field.

Instead of thinking agriculture equals just farming, we need to look at it and say, agriculture equals industry, agriculture equals jobs, but, most of all, agriculture equals a future. Agriculture is faced with numerous issues that will have to be solved in order to feed the world’s growing population. To be solved, these issues will need to be tackled by intelligent people who are equipped with the necessary knowledge. 4-H, FFA and obtaining an agriculture degree provide part of that knowledge. So when you or your child starts thinking about involvement in agriculture or getting an agricultural degree, rest assured that the entire world still has to eat, which guarantees job security.

Michelle Bufkin is is a freelance writer from Auburn.