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Useless degrees?

Posted by: | January 27, 2012 | 6 Comments |

In a recent blog post on Yahoo! Education entitled “College Majors That Are Useless” (http://tinyurl.com/6p3sqee), writer Terence Loose states, “Want to make sure you don’t pick a dud of a degree? Check out our list of most useless degrees,” and goes on to list Agriculture as “useless degree #1”, Animal Science as “useless degree #4”, and Horticulture as “useless degree #5”.

Huh?

Mr. Loose’s opinion is based loosely—pun intended—on U.S. Department of Labor projections cited in an article in the online version of Newsweek magazine, the Daily Beast (http://tinyurl.com/5rm7eyl), which itself is difficult to fathom, considering what we know from other analyses.

Apparently, for Mr. Loose and for the Daily Beast, it’s all about making money! They consider these graduates do not earn as much as engineering, business, and IT graduates and, therefore, they are useless.

Not surprisingly, the Yahoo blog post loosed a national firestorm of responses attempting to refute Mr. Loose’s opinion—including some from our own students and alumni—in emails, personal Facebook pages, blog posts, Tweets, and in proverbial hallway and water cooler conversations.

“I Studied Agriculture and I Have a Job” (http://tinyurl.com/77pqlwu), a Facebook community page created in response to the Loose blog elicited within 24 hours almost 4,000 “likes” and counting.

I am shocked that any one would say that degrees in agriculture, horticulture, and animal science are useless.

I wonder if Mr. Loose woke up on the morning he wrote his blog and ate breakfast, followed by lunch and dinner. Well, maybe he didn’t realize that folks who studied such majors likely enabled his meals.

Similarly, the healthy fruit and vegetables that are chock full of antioxidants and other “good” things are what horticulturists enable him to have.

I wonder if Mr. Loose breathed in some air and drank some water. Yet again, some agriculture majors make sure that those are kept clean and plentiful.

And all the IT degrees, engineering degrees, business degrees, etc. don’t mean a thing if we don’t have food, which is what the agriculture, horticulture, and animal science degree holders enable.

And, lest we forget, we will have almost 10 billion people on Earth in just another 40 years, just about 50 percent more than we have today. We’ll need many more of those agriculture, horticulture, and animal science graduates to be able to feed all of those people.

The amazing efficiency of American agriculture is such that less than 1.5 percent of our population is involved in producing our food. So, the demand for such graduates in actually producing food may be low. In addition to production agriculture, however, graduates of these majors end up in many other endeavors.

They go on to careers as geneticists, food scientists, life scientists, ecologists, environmental scientists, golf course superintendents, viticulturists, landscape specialists, horticultural therapists, vegetable specialists, fruit specialists, plant scientists, animal scientists, plant breeders, animal breeders, veterinarians, medical doctors, soil scientists, hydrologists, food safety specialists, natural resource specialists, cancer biologists, toxicologists, nanotechnologists, microbiologists, pest management specialists, educators, researchers, and on and on and on.

They work in government and non-governmental organizations, in universities, high schools, and colleges, in the private sector and corporations, and with international organizations.

They work in the agrochemical sector, the agribusiness sector, the biomedical sector, and the pharmaceutical sector. They work as Peace Corps volunteers and help people in developing countries. They are entrepreneurs, they are inventors, they are discoverers.

They get jobs or go on to graduate school or professional schools shortly after graduation.

Indeed, a recent Georgetown University study showed that agriculture and natural resources graduates face one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States (http://tinyurl.com/7aymmsq).

A Purdue University study suggested the agricultural, food, and renewable natural resources sectors (http://tinyurl.com/6t4zuja) of the U.S. economy will generate an estimated 54,400 annual openings for individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees in food, renewable energy, and environmental specialties between 2010 and 2015. The kicker is the agricultural programs in the nation will produce five percent fewer graduates than are needed.

Our College, and many like it in the United States, have revamped curricula and offer an education that enables students to develop critical thinking skills, communication skills, ethical skills, experiential skills, and leadership skills, along with technical knowledge in the various agricultural disciplines. Such a combination is making our graduates competitive for jobs in many different sectors.

The College created a Leadership Academy and a minor in leadership to help inculcate such skills in our graduates; additionally, our expectation is that 100 percent of our students have one or more internships, externships, or other experiences on campus, in corporate and private sector, and in government or non-governmental organizations, and some even avail overseas opportunities. Thus our graduates are equipped not only with excellent technical knowledge, but also “soft skills”.

At the end of the day, our graduates are addressing the needs of our nation and our world. They are involved in many different useful endeavors and are earning a good living, contrary to Mr. Terence Loose’s opinion.

Ciao,

Sonny Ramaswamy
Reub Long Professor and Dean

under: Uncategorized

6 Comments

  1. By: James Cassidy on January 27, 2012 at 5:40 pm      

    Hear hear!!!

  2. By: Cap on January 30, 2012 at 9:51 am      

    I think his biggest mistake in writing the article was assuming that people with those majors actual perform that exact job — i.e., agriculture majors must intend to manage a farm. I chose to major in ag/animal science because I have seen firsthand that isn’t the case. I have worked in almost every animal-related field there is, including veterinary, zoos, and pharmaceutical and academic research, all of which are delighted to get someone with the suite of skills that comes from studying agriculture. On the coasts, research may be mostly rodents, but in the midwest it is predominantly livestock and companion animals, and almost everyone I have come across in the field of lab animal science (including those making 6-figures) has a degree in animal science or agriculture.

  3. By: Kat Benson on February 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm      

    I don’t think it is a coincidence that the “most effective” and “most versatile” degrees listed are all available from the ‘colleges’ advertized.

  4. By: Susan Burkham on February 2, 2012 at 5:02 pm      

    I agree that the value of agriculture, horticulture, and animal sciences degrees are often undervalued. People forget they have to eat and the food comes from plants(horticulture and agriculture) and animals(animal science, agriculture and horticulture because animals need to eat) on the farms originally not the grocery store. Our country undervalues the necessity of having safe, healthy foods and water in favor of big business and big money. Without the basics of life, there is no life.

  5. By: Matthew V Andrews on February 2, 2012 at 5:04 pm      

    Not only do I have a degree-related job and own a degree-related business, but my Food Science and Technology MS Degree (minior in biochem), plus 40 years of experience, has allowed me to help prevent a lot of food-borne illness over the years by providing advice for food producers about how to avoid microbial contamination in their food plants.

  6. By: webbel on September 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm      

    Thanks for your comment. You may want to take a look at OSU’s Graduate School; here’s the link: http://gradschool.oregonstate.edu/

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