CORNING, Calif. — From humble beginnings, the 60-year-old agriculture college at California State University-Chico has become one of the fastest growing institutions in the country, an administrator told a local Farm Bureau gathering here.
Enrollment in Chico State’s College of Agriculture has risen from 370 students in 2005 to 720 taking classes this academic year, university advancement director Sarah DeForest said. Among disciplines, those seeking an animal science degree have doubled in the past few years, she said.
“It’s like a flashing beacon for all those 17-year-olds who love animals and want to be veterinarians,” she told a dinner audience on Jan. 16.
The growth at Chico State and in many other universities’ ag departments is fueled by urban youngsters’ interest in food production and desire to find a job after college, DeForest said.
“People are clamoring to get in the doors of the College of Agriculture,” she said.
The college’s success comes after state budget cuts in the early 1990s had university officials pondering a major scaling back of agriculture instruction, including a plan to turn the farm into a money-making venture, until protests by lawmakers and others scuttled the plan.
Even so, the College of Agriculture was under pressure to raise money and increase its enrollment, so a group of backers initiated an annual golf tournament, a social at the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale and a breakfast at the Colusa Farm Show, the latter of which featured Gov. Jerry Brown as its main speaker last year.
Chico State is one of many universities in the West and around the country to see enrollment boosts for their agricultural offerings. Nationwide, enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs focusing on agriculture at land-grant universities has increased roughly 30 percent since 2004, according to the USDA Food and Agriculture Education Information System.
In all, 53,965 ag students nationwide were expected to receive degrees last year, and that number is projected to rise to 57,029 by 2015, according to the FAEIS.
At Chico State, enrollment for all the ag disciplines is up, DeForest said. The crop sciences degree program has risen from 40 enrollees in 2008 to 122 students this fall, she said. The ag business major’s student body has increased by 50 percent in the last few years, she said.
The potential for jobs is driving much of the increase, asserts Jamie Johansson, an Oroville, Calif., almond grower and the California Farm Bureau Federation’s second vice president. On average, each ag graduate has two jobs waiting, he said.
“Name another industry that has that,” he said.
With rapid changes in technology and consumer preference, it’s difficult to know what ag jobs will look like in future decades, DeForest said.
“What we promise to our students is to give them the tools to succeed at whatever they may find,” she said.
California State University-Chico College of Agriculture: http://www.csuchico.edu/ag/
USDA Food and Agriculture Education Information System: http://www.faeis.ahnrit.vt.edu