If students want to become agriculture teachers in some northern Midwest states, they’ll find a gap of over 700 miles between the available colleges of North Dakota State University in Fargo and Montana State University in Bozeman.
In this region, students who wish to be ag teachers either have to travel long distances from home or potentially choose a different degree. However, NDSU and Dickinson State University (DSU) have collaborated and created a program to help.
“Nationwide, across all teaching disciplines, we’re dealing with teacher shortages, and rural America is hit particularly hard with a shortage of qualified teachers entering our classrooms,” says Adam Marx, associate professor of ag education at NDSU.
While rural communities and agriculture education have always dealt with some type of shortage, NDSU and DSU faculty have developed a program to give opportunities to students looking to become agriculture teachers. “A student will enter Dickinson State as a freshman, taking their general education courses and agriculture content there, [and] then receive all of their teacher preparation coursework through NDSU at a distance,” Marx says.
This program is the culmination of several years of discussions and work with Marx, other NDSU administrators and Chip Poland, chair of ag and tech studies at DSU. Through the program, students receive a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years, first earning their bachelor’s in agriculture studies from DSU and a Master of Education in agricultural education teacher licensure from NDSU. In all, it breaks down to three years of DSU course work, one year as a dual student, and one year as an NDSU graduate student.
Meeting students’ needs
“DSU is not able to solely offer students an opportunity to pursue an agricultural education program in western North Dakota,” Poland says. “This collaboration was developed in such a way that it is not a standalone program at DSU but is complementary to the other programs we currently offer. DSU priority was to develop a way to meet the needs of students wanting to pursue agricultural education as a program of study but did not want to leave the region to achieve that goal.”
During those three years, students will receive advising and instruction from the two colleges and faculty members.
Students will not only be able to stay closer to home while pursuing their degree in ag education, but also have access to two different universities and faculties to achieve their degrees.
“The real benefit that’s being offered is that it allows students to go to a campus where they want to be, and access the education and experiences they want,” Marx says.
Ag education desert
Poland describes the norther Great Plains as an ag education desert. “Current programs are offered in Fargo, Brookings [S.D.], Lincoln [Neb.], Laramie [Wyo.] and Bozeman,” he says. “Dickinson State sits largely in the middle of this desert.”
Economic benefits to students include an accelerated degree process and the chance to earn a higher income long term with a master’s degree.
Agriculture content ranges between the two schools, which can give students an opportunity to choose their chief interests. DSU courses fall in line with range sciences, natural resources and ranching practices, while NDSU content focuses more on cropping systems and food sciences within in agriculture courses.
“There’s still a lot of overlap with soils and foundational agribusiness, and those common courses between the two campuses,” Marx says. “There will be more of a content focus on the regional ecological needs for teachers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.”
Even if students chose not to pursue a traditional ag education position, they can find other successful careers with this program. “We have Extension education built into the coursework, along with other courses to fit their needs,” Marx says. “Whether it’s a high school agriculture teacher, or farm business management instructors, Extension agents, Farm Bureau positions, they will be prepared for a wide variety of careers within agriculture.”
“We truly appreciate the cooperation we have received from NDSU in developing this opportunity,” Poland says. “It was developed to build on the strengths of our two programs while meeting student desires without the need for duplication or competition. A strong example of how the North Dakota University System can operate in meeting the needs of the state.”
Students can enroll in this program at DSU starting in the fall.