The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State | Ag college blooms as focus goes past farms

Students are flocking to Ohio State University’s agriculture college as more people become aware of pressing issues such as growing obesity rates in the United States, world hunger and the need to protect natural resources.

Since 2005, total enrollment at OSU’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Science has increased 15 percent to 3,348 students last year. Fueling that growth are both undergraduate and graduate students whose numbers each jumped 26 percent.

There has been an 11 percent decline in students attending Ohio State’s two-year technical program in Wooster. But officials say that can be attributed to fewer students taking gardening classes, which they now get from community programs. More students are also enrolling at OSU’s Columbus campus because they’ve realized the value of getting a four-year degree in today’s competitive market, they say.

“I think this is the most-exciting time in history for students to truly make a difference in the lives of Ohioans and people across the world in such areas as the environment, food and energy,” said Linda Martin, the college’s associate dean.Colleges across the country have seen demand spike for degrees in agriculture. Penn State, for example, which has long been a powerhouse for ag education, has seen its agriculture enrollment grow by 40 percent since 2004.

Officials like to joke that agricultural colleges have become attractive to more students nationwide because they’re not just about “cows and plows” anymore.

At Ohio State, students can also study agribusiness, construction management, environmental science, sustainable plant systems, and even professional golf management and turf-grass science.

The college has 22 majors, including several new ones such as meat science, where students will learn about anatomy, meat processing and a growing hot topic: food safety. That’s helped Ohio State attract a more diverse pool of students.

About 50 percent of the college’s students grew up in farm families, but the other half comes from urban and suburban neighborhoods — drawn by emerging areas such as studying the health effects of foods or developing bio-fuels, said Bobby Moser, the college’s dean.

And students aren’t just enrolling in larger numbers; they’re succeeding in larger numbers, he said.
Nearly 92 percent of agriculture students return for their sophomore year, and 84.3 percent graduate within six years, higher than the university-wide rate of 79.7 percent.

About 92 percent of OSU’s ag grads also find a job or enroll in graduate school within six months, a number that hasn’t dropped since the economy soured five years ago. Roughly 75 percent of those graduates stay in Ohio.

Agriculture is Ohio’s No. 1 industry, contributing more than $107 billion to the state’s economy every year and employing roughly 1 million people, said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and an OSU trustee.

Advances in technology and research are creating opportunities, and Ohio State is helping to lead the way, Fisher said.

OSU’s agriculture college gives students the personalized attention of a small school and the opportunities of a large one, said Jill Tyson, a student recruiter.

The college has a 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, and all students are assigned a faculty adviser who helps them create programs that meet their individual needs, Tyson said.

Students can do research or participate in study-abroad programs with professors, Tyson said, and undergraduates must complete an internship.

Abby Snyder, 23, of the Chillicothe area, grew up in a family with strong agricultural roots.
But as a student ambassador for Ohio State, she most enjoyed talking to high-school students from big cities about the diverse job fields that would be available to them if they went to OSU’s ag school.
“One in five people in Ohio work in agriculture, just many of them don’t know it because the field has become diverse,” she said.

Snyder will graduate today with three majors: food science and nutrition, chemistry and English.

By  Encarnacion Pyle
The Columbus Dispatch Sunday August 12, 2012 5:59 AM