Transforming Agricultural Education for a Changing World (2009) recommends that academic institutions with undergraduate programs in agriculture implement the following steps to better meet the needs of students, employers, and the broader society.
1. Implement strategic planning
Colleges and universities with agriculture programs should act strategically to recruit, retain, and prepare the agriculture graduate of today and tomorrow. Strategic planning is needed that involves a broad array of participants, including faculty within and outside of agriculture colleges, current and former students, employers, disciplinary societies, commodity groups, local organizations, farmers, and representatives of the public. Institutions should develop and implement a strategic plan within the next two years and revisit it every 3-5 years thereafter to evaluate progress and to refine and improve new programs and policies.
2. Broaden treatment of agriculture in the overall curriculum
Topics related to agriculture are found in numerous disciplines, from engineering and technology to chemistry and biology to the social sciences. Accordingly, academic institutions should broaden the treatment of agriculture in the overall undergraduate curriculum. In particular, faculty in colleges of agriculture should encourage discussion of agriculture in courses throughout the institution and work with colleagues from other departments to develop shared introductory courses that serve multiple populations and can illuminate underlying themes shared by agriculture and other disciplines.
3. Broaden the student experience
The skills and knowledge that employers value most are not always well-aligned with undergraduate agriculture programs. Institutions should broaden the undergraduate student experience to include training in transferable skills such as communication, teamwork, and management. Institutions should also increase student opportunities to participate in the outreach and extension activities common in many colleges of agriculture as well as undergraduate research, internships, and similar programs. Finally, institutions should increase students’ exposure to international perspectives by supporting targeted learning-abroad programs and by incorporating international perspectives into existing courses.
4. Prepare faculty to teach effectively
Despite recent advances in the understanding of how people learn, university faculty do not generally receive much training in effective teaching, and universities still tend to use an outmoded method of teaching focused on facts and lecturing. As a result, many classes fail to engage students. Academic institutions, professional societies, and funding agencies should support faculty-development activities focused on effective teaching. These activities should also provide appropriate training to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers—the next generation of agriculture faculty. Academic institutions should ensure that the responsibility for faculty development rests with departments, colleges, and institutions, rather than on individual faculty members.
5. Reward exemplary teaching
Achievements in teaching are only rarely rewarded in substantive ways. Efforts by academic institutions, funding agencies, and professional societies are needed to support effective teaching. Academic institutions should enhance institutional rewards for high-quality teaching and curriculum development, especially including rigorous consideration in hiring, tenure, and promotion. Funding agencies should also support and reward excellence in teaching: the National Science Foundation’s “broader-impacts criterion,” for example (which requires grantees to include in their grants elements promoting education, outreach, and societal benefits) should be considered by other agencies. Professional societies should raise the profile of teaching within disciplines, for example by sponsoring education sessions at society meetings, hosting workshops on teaching and learning, supporting education-focused articles in society publications, and facilitating the dissemination of teaching materials.
6. Build stronger connections among institutions
Academic programs in agriculture tend to exist in isolation, with few connections between institutions—even between those in the same geographic area. In addition, community and tribal colleges produce large numbers of students, including high percentages of members of traditionally underrepresented groups, but there are currently few pathways for those students to pursue agricultural careers. Institutions should partner with each other to better support the needs of students in agriculture, such as by establishing joint programs and courses and developing pathways for students pursuing careers in agriculture.
7. Start early
Increased awareness of agriculture’s important role in addressing major societal problems can help to raise the profile of the field and attract more students. It is, therefore, in the best interest of institutions with programs in agriculture to foster greater awareness among pre-college students. Colleges and universities should reach out to expose K-12 students and teachers to agricultural topics and generate interest in agricultural careers. Programs that might be considered include agriculture-based high schools, urban-agricultural education programs, summer high-school or youth programs in agriculture, and partnerships with youth-focused programs, such as 4-H, National FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America), and scouting programs.
8. Build strategic partnerships
Although colleges and universities are responsible for preparing students for careers in agriculture, there is little communication between educational institutions and the employers of their graduates. Academic institutions should include representatives of industry and other employers on visiting committees, on advisory boards, and in strategic planning. Conversely, companies should include academic faculty on their advisory committees. In addition, exchange programs should be developed to enable agriculture professionals to spend semesters teaching at academic institutions and enable faculty to spend sabbaticals working outside of academe. Finally, opportunities for students to work in professional settings should be developed and expanded. These opportunities can include internships, cooperative education programs, summer opportunities, mentoring and career programs, job shadowing, and other experiences.
9. Focus reviews of undergraduate programs in agriculture
Those responsible for conducting reviews related to undergraduate education in agriculture should incorporate the elements discussed in this report to guide their evaluations and decisions in accreditation, review of grant proposals, department and other institutional reviews, and other venues. The report offers a checklist of items that should be used by any individual or group conducting a review of a program, curriculum, department, college, or institution. The checklist includes questions about the nature of the curriculum, the ways that courses are taught, and the teaching style and knowledge of faculty about how students learn, among others.