A recent Newsweek blog ranked the 20 most useless college majors, based on job growth potential and post-college earning power, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Two of the top three had to do with growing things (no. 2 – Horticulture, and no. 3 – Agriculture), and number 20 on the list was Animal Science.
Aside from the obvious denigration of all things ag as ‘useless,’ I’d like to point out some facts – empirical and anecdotal – the blog missed when dismissing one of the nation’s most crucial industries, courtesy of some folks at universities with agriculture departments nearest to the Illinois Farm Bureau’s backyard.
Dr. Rob Rhykerd, Chair of the Department of Agriculture and Professor of Soil Science at Illinois State University, says ag is alive and well as a career for young professionals. He says upwards of 80% of his department’s graduates find jobs in their field. He also says a few returning seniors were even offered full-time employment before returning to campus their senior year.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the need for agronomists,” according to Dr. Rhykerd. “The Ag industry has recognized this area as a priority area and this past year we received $40,000 from the Illinois Soybean Association and $10,000 from Pioneer to provide scholarships to agronomy students.”
Dr. Loehrlein makes another excellent point: “Maybe the problem with ‘usefulness’ of horticulture, agronomy, and animal science degrees is that we don’t charge enough for our services. After all, food is still pretty cheap (at least in the US), easy to obtain, is available in endless variety throughout the year, and only about 2 percent of our population is required to produce it.”
And Dr. Loehrlein says career satisfaction should not be discounted when it comes to the notion of usefulness. “In addition to employment, everyone I know who is interested in horticulture, finds great satisfaction and reward in the gardening and landscaping that they do. They love propagating plants, and are adept at caring for and nurturing garden and house plants. They are curious and willing to try their skills on an ever-increasing variety of plants. Given the strong human connection to nature, and especially to plants, which sustain us with food, fiber, medicine, – and just plain make us happy! – maybe ‘usefulness’ in employment should factor in job satisfaction and enjoyment.”
One last thing to consider when it comes to “usefulness” of a career: doctors, lawyers, computer analysts, and engineers all have one thing in common (besides long hours spent largely indoors under artificial light…)– they all have to eat to stay alive. And in the coming years, with a growing world population that is requiring more food, it’ll be the agriculture-related majors that make sure the ones with the “useful” careers don’t go hungry.