FORT DODGE – There has been an ag program at Iowa Central Community College for 30 years, but since 2007, the program has seen steady growth in ag students enrolled, with yet another anticipated increase next year.
Under the leadership of Mike Robertson, program coordinator, the number of students enrolled in the ag program has grown from 28 in the 2007-2008 school year to 55 in 2009-2010 and an estimated 68 in 2011-2012.
Robertson and Mike Richards, ag instructor, have been concentrating on program expansion and recruiting high school students interested in pursuing a career in agriculture.
Richards and Robertson, who teach all of the ag courses at the college, said two of the biggest recruiting efforts have been working closely with high school instructors in the college’s nine-county region, and a new effort they started last summer.
That project was sponsoring showmanship awards at all of the county fairs in the region including Webster, Hamilton, Greene, Calhoun, Sac, Buena Vista, Pocahontas, Humboldt and Wright.
Both men said they attended the fairs and set up information booths in order to talk to potential students about the agriculture programs that Iowa Central offers.
“It’s about $8,000 cheaper to start (an ag degree program) here,” Robertson told an audience during Thursday’s Farm News Ag Show in Fort Dodge, “and then transfer to a university.”
What Robertson and Richards have done in the past several years is to update the ag programming to contemporary needs.
Robertson said the program works with an advisory group that, he said, helps keep him and Richards relevant in program offering. Richards said that his background with Pioneer and Robertson’s background with Monsanto also help them know what ag students need to know coming out of college.
He said the college’s rodeo program, which is an extracurricular activity, has also been a recruiting draw for new students. He added that rodeo program has also helped increase ag student enrollments at other community colleges as well.
The college offers an associate of arts degree that leads to transferring to a university. It also offers a two-year technology program that can be tailored for each student’s interest level – from animal science to agronomy to farm management.
The college leases 250 acres from Webster County and the college recently purchased another 40 acres west of town that are used for hands-on programming. The farmland is used by multiple classes, doing both strip-till and conventional tillage and comparing the yields and input costs of both.
He added that early results show that strip-till holds a $14 per acre advantage over conventional tillage, but he wants to look at several more years of tests to verify that advantage over the long term.
Robertson said that besides other facility improvements, the program is overseeing the construction of a new greenhouse.
Richards said they hope to have the 21-by-36-foot greenhouse ready for use next spring where students can learn soil management, plant growth, plant populations, drought issues and weed and pest identification and management.
Last year, Richards was successful in starting a chapter of PAS – Postsecondary Agriculture Student – organization, which he described as “almost a collegiate FFA program.”
He said it’s been well-received by former FFA members who are too old for the program. “It helps them with developing career contacts, advances leadership skills, strengthens their ag skills and can lead them into specific life directions,” Richards said.
Other recruiting measures that have helped enrollment has been visit days with high school juniors and seniors, plus offering college-level agricultural classes that high school students can take before they graduate from high school.
They said the biggest need in ag education is teaching precision agriculture. Robertson added that farm cooperatives are regularly looking for young workers at entry-level positions and these students need to be up-to-date on present-day issues.
Robertson said he also mandated internships for those who are in the two-year ag technology programs, which has often led to job offers for those students when they finish their courses.
Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.