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Misperceptions and reality
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Dr. Victor L. Martin

We will skip the weather and wheat this week to address an article that appeared on the front page of the Yahoo! Website this past week by a Terence Loose, titled “College Majors That Are Useless.” At the top of the list was Agriculture. Two items are quite telling in his brief, sarcastic rundown. First, Mr. Loose states the following, “Still, if your idea of a good day is getting up with the sun and working till it sets as an agricultural manager, a degree in agriculture might be your calling.” This is followed up with figures stating that by 2018 we will need 64,600 fewer farm managers so a degree in Agriculture is “useless.” Second, he lists coursework as including “Crops, plant diseases, animal husbandry, basic veterinary science.” While not wanting to get on a soapbox, it’s important to address the flaws in the article, both the assumptions and conclusions.
The projection that there will fewer farm managers may be true; however, there are a few more options for graduates with “agriculture” degrees besides farm manager. An examination of the coursework he lists demonstrates a lack of understanding of the whole area of agriculture. It is probably a safe assumption that the author simply looked up some data and used information from an “expert” or two for the article and knows little about any of the majors he listed.  This is only a 500 word article but let’s briefly refute these two items. First, generally a student doesn’t receive a B.S. in agriculture but typically something like agronomy, agricultural engineering, plant pathology, animal science, and agricultural economics. Professional opportunities for majors in an agriculture science run the gamut from sales and government to environmental quality and crop consulting. And many graduates of two- and four-year institutions in these areas often take their skills back to the family operation.
The agriculture section lists efficiency of operations as a major reason for the need for fewer “farm managers.” While this efficiency is happening and may result in fewer opportunities in one area, it opens many other opportunities. Agriculture is becoming a highly technical, sophisticated area, one where initial and continuing technical and scientific training is essential. The Ag program at Barton is constantly being contacted by recruiters from Kansas and surrounding states looking for graduates from our certificate and degree programs in Crop Protection. Mr. Loose is correct that you will get up with the sun but he is wrong in that you will often work well past sunset but with a certificate or two-year degree a graduate also has the opportunity to make well over $30,000 and up to $50,000 in a short period of time. That typically includes good benefits like paid holidays, vacation, retirement plan and health insurance.
There is a larger issue with the article. How do you place a “value” on a particular major and education in general? There is a great danger to society if every educational opportunity has to pass a “usefulness” test. The world would be a poorer place if everything done has to be justified in purely economic terms and many graduates in areas ill-suited for their abilities and interests.