By Samantha Schmidt
Over the past decade, Purdue University's College of Agriculture has seen an increase in enrollment that has led to a shift in the background of the student population. It is becoming increasingly common for students that have little or no rural background to pursue a degree in agriculture.
"The number of students with a traditional agriculture background is declining," said Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs Dr. Marcos Fernandez. "When I started in 2011, 37% of the students in the College of Agriculture had a farm background. That has dropped to about 32% and it has been gradually declining for some time. Today, about 1 in 3 students come from a farm and another 20% have rural experience."
Dr. Fernandez credits the shift in part to the majors that the College of Agriculture provides.
"We have majors that attract traditional and non-traditional agriculture students alike. Biochemistry, agribusiness, food science and agriculture and biological engineering are all seeing increasing numbers," said Fernandez. "Today's agriculture industry has a very strong science and technology base, which means that the student's that are training now have to be technically confident and savvy because many advances are going to be driven by rapid developments in science and technology."
As a constantly evolving industry, agriculture is a challenging environment, but Purdue's College of Agriculture continues to experience successful post-graduation placement. According to the 2012 employment summary provided by the College of Agriculture, 90% of May graduates had gained employment or were continuing their education.
"Employers and companies have access to a declining number of students with a farm background and although that number keeps shrinking, they still need people with that knowledge and expertise," said Fernandez. "Students who enter the industry with no previous knowledge or experience have to be trained, which costs their employer time, money and potential sales. It is our job in the College of Agriculture to equip students with the proper skills and knowledge that gives them a competitive edge and makes them an asset rather than an additional cost."
Besides an incredibly high placement rate for graduates, Dr. Fernandez believes there is one other factor causing this shift in student background.
"Agriculture is a discipline that deals with solving world problems and issues. We are seeing a generation of students that want to be a part of that solution and make an impact," said Fernandez. "Overall, it's an exciting time to be in Purdue agriculture. There are just so many opportunities."
Schmidt is a senior in the Purdue University Ag Communications program