Missouri currently employs 378,232 full- and part-time workers in the agriculture industry, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Yet, until now, educational opportunities for students interested in this field have been non-existent in the greater St. Louis region.
With St. Louis’ rapidly growing plant and agricultural innovation community serving as a leading hub for the commercialization of plant science and related technologies, St. Charles Community College is changing the local educational landscape with its agriculture program, launching this fall.
Not only is there a workforce demand, but high school students are also showing an interest in the field.
“Troy Buchanan High School has the largest Future Farmers of America chapter in the nation, and there are no higher education agriculture options close to them,” said John Bookstaver, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and enrollment management at SCC. “Our new agricultural and food science offering will give more students like these the opportunity to pursue studies that will help them achieve their dreams while contributing to the strength of the economy of the region.”
“This large number of students with a vested interest in the agriculture industry provides the ideal environment for SCC to make a dramatic impact on the next generation of agriculture technicians,” said Heather Stueben, SCC associate professor of chemistry.
Median incomes for those employed in the agricultural industry in Missouri range from $27,770 to $101,400, depending on area of specialty, expertise and education level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
SCC students will now be able to complete an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree with a focus in agriculture this fall, and the college has plans to expand its agriculture offerings in the near future.
“One of the great things about a community college is that we focus on fundamentals,” said Micah Humphreys, Ph.D., SCC associate professor of agriculture. “One goal that we have is to set the foundations for students to understand a wide variety of agriculture specialties. The coursework will be designed so that students can get a job in an agriculture field and hit the ground running because they have mastered the essentials. Also, if students want to transfer to a four-year institution, they are going to be ready for the upper division courses and the specialization that happens in those courses.”
SCC was awarded a $222,269 grant from the National Science Foundation that will support the development and implementation of this new agriculture program. The funding extends from Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2021.
“We're going to pay close attention to what we hear from the students in terms of their interests, as well as what we hear from the industry, to determine the best investment of our efforts into specific programs and degrees,” Humphreys said. “We are excited to begin this program. We want to be the leader in the region for providing an excellent educational experience in agriculture.”