Degrees, Could They Be More Useful?

When I saw the article on Yahoo last week, ‘College Majors That Are Useless,’ I was reminded of some thoughts I had last May when it first ran on another site. After digging around my laptop a bit, I finally found some notes I had jotted down.

First and foremost, I do not believe that ‘Agricultural Degrees’ are “useless.” However, unlike many, rather than compose a response that points out the value of such a degree, I was struck with the thought, “could agricultural degrees be MORE useful?”

For that matter, could all degrees be more useful?

Personally, I think a quality and broad education, no matter the “degree” associated with it, is only useful if the person is able and willing to apply what they have learned. (But that is another post.)

For the purpose of this post, I am referring to all agriculturally related degrees: animal science, crop science, soil science, agricultural business, horticulture, etc.

Keeping in mind, that agriculture is an ever-changing industry, constantly developing and implementing new technology, becoming more efficient and modifying production practices; are colleges offering and requiring courses for their degree programs that are relevant?

PLEASE, do not take this as a statement that colleges are not keeping up to date. I am merely asking questions, in 2012 and moving forward, could they or should they do more?

  1. Are there courses that should be offered or required to attain a degree?
  2. Are there required courses that are no longer relevant to a particular degree?
  3. Are there degrees that should not be offered any more?
  4. Are there new degrees that should be introduced?
  5. Should colleges that offer agricultural degrees specialize or try to offer as many degrees as possible?

I remember back, 20+ years ago, when I went off to college to gather the knowledge that I felt would be necessary to increase the likelihood of success being a farmer and rancher. Yes, it took me six years to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree, but I tailored it to meet the needs that I knew I would have. I took engineering, military science, additional chemistry, calculus, statistics and economics courses.

Many of the introductory courses, specific to agriculture, at both of the universities I attended, I found to be a “waste of time,” for me. I say for me, because I do believe that they were very valuable to those students that did not have an agricultural background and wished to go into the field. Please do not take my previous statement the wrong way. Those introductory courses I saw as a “waste” were due the fact of my being actively involved in running our ranch since childhood, participation in 4-H and having been blessed with an outstanding high school agriculture program and FFA.

Additionally, there were several courses that presented information and methodology that was no longer applicable to current practices and failed to present the most current science methodology.

Having said that, I was very impressed by the upper division courses at both universities I attended (Colorado State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) and know that they have played a tremendous role in the success that I have enjoyed.

Finally, we are all aware that certain universities (within regions) are known to excel in certain areas of agriculture. When I was in college, for the west coast, Colorado State excelled in Equine Science, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in Dairy Science and Beef Production, Chico State in Sheep and Beef Production, Fresno State in Swine Production and Viticulture, UC Davis in Veterinary Medicine, and Oregon State in Natural Resources, to list a few. My question is, while each of these schools offered degrees in multiple agricultural fields, are we at a point in time where specializing may be more efficient? Just asking the question, in search of insight from recent graduates, employers and those involved in education at any level.

Perhaps I am one of the few, but I saw the Yahoo article, as offensive as it may have been to some, as a “wake-up” call for those of us in agriculture to evaluate what we are doing to insure that our industry has properly prepared employees, managers and future owners. Are we doing all we can or settling for the “status quo?” Can we do more? Can we do better?

I’m curious, what are your thoughts?

  1. January 24, 2012 at 9:31 PM

    I don’t have an ag degree – I had a degree in education. My job as a teacher is prepare my students for careers that may not exist now that will use technology that doesn’t exist today. So, instead of focusing on teaching content we need to focus on teaching students (both young like my little ones and college level) to THINK and to continually seek out opportunities to learn. No matter how long students spend in the classroom there is always more to learn – my job as a teacher is to teach them how to seek out information that they are interested in so they can learn outside the classroom (and I am not just talking about homework).

    No matter how much a degree changes it will never be able to meet the need of both today and in the future and that is simply because we have no idea what the world will be like that far in advance. Agriculture could change drastically in the next 10 years or it could stay very close to what it is today – we have no idea. Sure, we can predict but there is no way to know for sure.

    But, I do think it is a great idea for colleges to re-evaluate their degree programs and change them as needed. Which is something they do already. Great questions – it would be interesting to read what a college level educator has to say about this.

  2. January 25, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Definitely food for thought, hope you get the answers you want on this.

  3. January 25, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    I believe MOST college degrees are not only useless but not worth a fraction of their cost! A practical skill – a trade – will do most people a lot better. There is ALWAYS a need for plumbers and electricians. What happened to “Shop” in schools? Where did tinkering with a car go as a hobby and pastime for boys? Or girls, if so interested.

    The first two years of my college programs are truly a waste of pre-reqs and partying. Why pay thru the nose to send your kid to get drunk and laid? They can do that at a local community college while also working and learning a bit about REAL LIFE!

  4. January 25, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    I love this post, mostly because my two brothers-in-law went to CSU and CalPoly. The post itself is right on, too, but I can’t stop smiling about the colleges you chose!

  5. January 26, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    I agree with Sarah – I have three children and my last is a sr in high school. Students are taught to regurgitate answers on the test page, for the most part. There are many many teachers out there that are absolutely amazing, that have a gift to teach others. But the way our schools are funded cripples them. Test scores, test scores, test scores. Students can memorize but they can’t reason. Speaking in generalities here, but in order to get to college you have to have those test scores. Ever read an SAT or ACT test? They are the most ridiculous thing.
    In regard to making ag degrees more valuable, yes, I do believe that is important. In doing so we must never lose sight of the hands on learning that needs to happen. My husband is a CalPoly grad – my youngest will attend next year. That school has become one of the hardest in the country to get in. Students are ranked on GPA and test scores, it’s all done by computer. You have to choose your major with application, and you compete against others who may have spent all their extracurricular time studying vs. getting practical experience in their chosen field. I know of several students who applied in the College of Ag that don’t know the first thing about it, but it got them into Cal Poly. Unfortunately those ag kids that weren’t accepted were pushed out. Cal Poly, as a school that touts hands on education, needs to remedy this.

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