CROOKSTON – Enrollment in agriculture-related programs at the University of Minnesota Crookston may be down slightly, but a division head at the school says a changing agricultural landscape is still drawing young people to the industry.

“I think there’s more interest now than there was 20 years ago. Farming is changing, especially when we talk about urban areas,” said Anthony Kern, division head for agriculture, natural science and technology. “The farming model there is on five acres or 10 acres, it isn’t on these sprawling 2,000-acre farms anymore. That’s still here – it hasn’t changed but it hasn’t grown or declined, either.”

Nearly half of the University of Minnesota Crookston’s on-campus students are enrolled in programs related to agriculture and natural resources. With 304 students enrolled in the University of Minnesota Crookston’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, its students make up 48% of UMC’s on-campus enrollment, and 21% of the school’s total enrollment.

Despite making up a large portion of the school’s campus, enrollment in the department is down from previous years. Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs John Hoffman says COVID-19 has made it harder for prospective students to visit campus, which might be impacting enrollment numbers.

“One of the things that sets our programs apart is the hands-on nature of our instruction,” said Hoffman. “When prospective students come to visit our campus in person, they see that hands-on approach come to life in a way that’s difficult to replicate through video or photos.”

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Kern says many UMC students pursue a four-year degree in an agriculture-related subject to learn more about the science and sustainability of farming. A college degree in agriculture can teach students the science of soil or allow them to gain experience with the technology needed for precision agriculture.

Kern also explained that not everybody in school for agriculture wants to be a farmer. A background in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – paired with agriculture opens the door for careers in agricultural software engineering, agricultural lending and crop advising. Students studying animal or equine science often become veterinarians. An agricultural communication degree can equip students for a career in marketing or journalism. The school’s agricultural education major combines information about agriculture with classroom management skills.

“We have a combination of students who want to go back to work on the farm and those who want to go out into the workplace,” said Kern.

All of the majors in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department are in person, except for agricultural business, which is offered online and on campus. Kern says this hands-on approach to learning sets up students for success, especially among those hoping to further their education.

“In our animal science and equine science programs, we have a really strong pre-veterinary program, so we have a really high acceptance rate into vet schools because our program is known for being hands-on with large animals,” said Kern. “In vet schools, they want people who can handle large animals and we do all of that here.”

According to Hoffman, the placement rate for UMC graduates applying for veterinary school is one in four, which is four times higher than the national average.

Even lower enrollment numbers, UMC's Agriculture and Natural Resource Department has grown in recent years. The newest major in the department is equine business management, added in the 2020/2021 school year. UMC’s equine science major focuses on the scientific aspects of a career with horses, such as nutrition, training and veterinary medicine. Students in the equine business management program learn more about the business side of working with horses, such as accounting, advertising and other aspects of running equine facilities – stables or racetracks, for instance.

Hoffman said the equine business management program came out of student interest in working with horses in a less scientific capacity.