Slew of majors propels record ag school enrollment

Animal science, food science and other majors are contributing to the increase.

Yelena Kibasova

The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences has hit a 20-year high in enrollment this semester despite the fact that the number of family farms in Minnesota is declining.

This semester, 1,172 undergraduates enrolled at the college. That’s up 19 percent from five years ago and up almost 70 percent from 1989.

“Overall, we (have) more people from the metro than out-state, (and have) increasing numbers every year from Wisconsin,” said Ann Hill Duin, associate dean at the college.

On the other hand, farms in Minnesota have been on a steady decline. According to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service, the number of farms has gone down from 104,000 in 1980 to 79,800 in 2004.

“One of the causes may be that farmers are getting close to that retirement age and not necessarily able to pass the farm along as they might have done in previous generations,” said Mike Schommer, communications director at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

So why has enrollment hit a peak when farming is at an all-time low?

“Oftentimes, people will think that our students are farmers or something Ö (but actually) they will enter a whole range of industries,” Duin said.

Rather than farming, the majors contributing to the increase in enrollment are animal science, food science and nutrition, applied economics and environmental sciences.

“I wouldn’t say that these majors are the sole reasons that the numbers are up, but I would say that (there is) more and more awareness of our majors in the college over all,” said Jennifer Taylor, admissions adviser at the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

“The U of M is one of two places that actually has (the food sciences) major, so I kind of expect a really great program where I can learn lots of great things,” said Jacquelyne Koch, a first-year food sciences student.

The nutrition major alone has 70 new undergraduate students this semester, Taylor said. It has gained popularity because more people are aware of healthy eating and the prevention of eating disorders.

Officials said they have confidence the enrollment will continue to increase because of their concentration on healthy foods and healthy lives.

“It used to be that, yes, this college focused on greater production of the food, now it’s the production of the right types of food that prevent cancer,” Duin said.

The college has an improved academic advising system and new student learning communities.

Student learning communities allow a student to immerse themselves in the specifics of their major early on in their college careers, Duin said.

New students enroll at the University to take advantage of what the college has to offer.

“I am really excited that their Ag Ed Club is very strong and works with the FFA (an agricultural student leadership group) kids a lot and I’m excited about all the internships I can get going through this college,” said Jessica Nesset, a first-year agriculture education student.