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Serving: IL

Richland Community College ag program expands staff, programs

Richland Community College
COLLEGE: Richland Community College’s ag program continues to develop since relaunching three years ago. 
Director Jess Smithers is enthusiastic to continue developing opportunities for current and prospective students.

Just on the other side of the Farm Progress Show gates in Decatur, Ill., sits Richland Community College and its evolving agriculture program. Jess Smithers, director of agriculture programs, shares changes to the program since the last show in Decatur.

The program gained an additional staff member in December 2019. Dave Shiley began as the outreach coordinator for agriculture programs. His role focuses on recruiting and engaging with students in high school ag programs within the district.

Dave ShileyAdding Shiley (pictured) to the Richland ag program is one driving force to reach the program’s enrollment goals. Smithers says in each of the last two years, enrollment has increased by 40%. The goal for the next school year is to repeat that level of growth.

“I think we will maintain this type of growth for several years, as interest in our program continues to increase since relaunching the program three years ago,” he says. “Also, the high school ag student numbers are increasing in the area, which is fantastic.”

With increasing enrollment comes expansion of degrees in the ag program. Students can choose from three associate degrees in applied science — agronomy, agribusiness and horticulture.

Smithers says the agronomy degree is a new addition to the program, while the agribusiness and horticulture options have been restructured and updated.

The most popular path students in the department choose is the ag transfer program for those wishing to complete a bachelor’s degree, but wanting to start at a community college. The large participation in the program means a need for a smooth transition from Richland to a university, such as the University of Illinois.

The college developed guaranteed transfer agreements with state institutions. Students can attend Richland, and credits will successfully transfer to any bachelor’s program if they meet GPA and coursework requirements.

Career focus

The ag program continues to see value in preparing students for a career.

“We stress to our students internship opportunities,” Smithers says. “We have some internship partnerships with Macon County Soil and Water, and Crop Risk Services. Interns from Richland are placed in jobs at many other companies as well.”

Richland also seeks to create more two-year degree programs geared toward technical jobs, which would help area companies such as ADM and Tate & Lyle find employees, he says.

Don’t miss the 2021 Farm Progress Show, which returns to Decatur Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

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