Ag-Bio majors vital to state economy seek more students

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

A few years ago, if a student had said the College Agricultural and Biological Sciences was struggling at SDSU, he would have been right.

Today, however, the program is making a turn around.

The college could still use more students, said Chuck McMullen, the interim associate dean of Ag-Bio academic programs.

McMullen sited several specific majors that are in pursuit of students.

“In this college, we have three [majors] that have been identified as being important to the economic development of the state: agronomy, range science and agricultural systems technology [AST],” he said.

“AST is the major that, in terms of salaries, has one of the highest-paying entry levels,” McMullen said.

For all of those majors, the salaries are relatively high.

“The average annual starting salary for college graduates we have data on is $27,579.

The high was $49,000. [There is] a number of students in the $30,000 to $40,000 range,” he said.

Aside from paychecks, these majors also offer surprisingly high placement.

“Our placement rate is running I think 98 percent, and it hasn’t been lower than 96 percent in the past five or six years,” McMullen said.

“Some of those majors would be 100 percent. Obviously, if we’re running at 95 to 98 percent, there’s quite a few running 100 percent. AST would be one of those.”

Perhaps because of these advantages, enrollment in these programs has jumped. In the fall of 1999, range science had 16 students.

This fall, the number was 29.

“So it’s come up quite a bit in the last three years,” McMullen said.

The improvement can continue, he said.

“We could use more students in any of our majors,” he said.

“There are some majors where we have more demand in terms of job opportunities than we have students graduating every year,” he said.

“We could graduate more students and place them.”

In order to do this, the Ag-Bio college is beefing up its recruitment in many ways.

“Actually we’re doing quite a number of things,” McMullen said.

One way students are attracted to the programs is through scholarship offerings.

“We’re looking at scholarship dollars. We have shifted some of our resources to incoming freshmen,” McMullen said. In short, “We have increased our scholarship tool.”

Another method of recruitment is the Ag-Bio Ambassadors. These Ag-Bio students travel throughout SD and bordering states speaking at high schools.

“This year their goal is to visit 74 schools,” McMullen said.

In addition, the college is involved with Junior and Senior Days at the university and has formed a committee on student recruitment and retention.

Also, McMullen said Ag/Bio has begun to try new advertisements. In addition to the print ads already used, the college is adding ads in Cinema Unique in Sioux Falls.

Finally, the college has worked with technology.

“We’ve done quite a bit of work on our webpage since we know a lot of students use the web to search for information on their school,” McMullen said.

All of the recruitment efforts can be seen working, McMullen said, adding that the pattern of enrollment in the college of Ag-Bio mirrors that of enrollment to SDSU in general.

“Our peak corresponds with the peak the university had, and our low corresponds with the low the university had.” Since SDSU’s enrollment is on the rise, “We’re on our way back up,” McMullen said of the college.