The Future of Agricultural Science Education

The Future of Agricultural Science Education
The view from the Dean

This issue of Oregon’s Agricultural Progress focuses on “The Future of Agriculture.” Part of our mission in the College of Agricultural Sciences is to help prepare students to contribute to this future. Let’s consider the year 2030, a mere 12 years from now, when many of today’s students will be entering leadership positions in their careers.

By 2030, the world population is expected to be 8.5 billion, an increase of 1.2 billion, or the equivalent of 3 additional USA’s spread across the world. In 12 years, the United States itself will add the population equivalent of 52 Portlands. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. The challenge to agriculture is clear.

There is more to this rapidly changing landscape than population increases. In 12 years, today’s graduates will be working with a new generation of machines capable of learning. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and adaptive algorithms will not only drive our cars, they will advance what we know and how we learn.

Agriculture is already a high-tech industry. Innovative Oregon dairies are programming robotics to milk and monitor the health of cows. Oregon vineyards are using drones to assess optimum harvest time. Oregon growers are planting crop varieties developed by genomic selection plant breeding. By 2030, agriculture will need innovators who can employ these and other emerging technologies to integrate new understanding about soil, air, water, and biological processes.

I expect that the demographics of our students will continue to change in the next 12 years. Already, there are fewer “traditional students,” those who enter college straight out of high school and march through a degree program in four years. Today, many of our students have transferred from another institution or college; or they have come to college after several years in the workforce. Many of those students who enter straight from high school have earned nearly a year’s worth of college credit through Advanced Placement and community college courses.

Education is no longer necessarily place-based. OSU Ecampus is a leader in delivering quality education programs to students anywhere in the world. The College of Agricultural Sciences offers four bachelor of science degree programs exclusively online. OSU Open Campus programs allow students to work with community colleges and our statewide facilities to earn an OSU degree without coming to Corvallis or La Grande. Hybrid programs use distance delivery to replace lectures and include short, intense visits to OSU facilities. To meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, individual educational plans will be developed for each student, with discipline requirements as well as opportunities for experiential learning and provisions for employment.

By 2030, I foresee a decreased emphasis on earning a degree and an increased emphasis on earning credentials. Already, employers are seeking graduates with relevant work experience, the ability to work in teams, and demonstrated skills in communication. Technical knowledge will be acquired through ever-evolving specialized skills throughout one’s career. Social skills will be equally important.

What advice do I offer to today’s students at OSU? First, master a discipline. You have to bring something to the table. Second, garner experiences. These are the credentials that potential employers will be looking for. And finally, embrace change— don’t fight it. Instead, learn with it and continually reinvent yourself.

Published in: Innovations, Economics, People