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Published April 04, 2011, 04:38 AM

Loss of Minnesota ag ed program affects students

MENTOR, Minn. — As I am sure many of you know, there has been talk of the University of Minnesota-Crookston cutting its agricultural education program.

By: Jenna (Chaput) Cardinal,

MENTOR, Minn. — As I am sure many of you know, there has been talk of the University of Minnesota-Crookston cutting its agricultural education program.

Unfortunately, this decision appears finalized and the program will end at the 2012 to ’13 academic year.

I currently am a sophomore in this degree program. They say with great numbers comes great power; however, it took only one to close this program, and I have come to realize that title and status are much more influential than numbers and importance.

The reason for the closing of the program is said to be “low enrollment.” However, fall 2011 would have brought in the largest group of freshmen to the program yet. Sadly, this will not be the case.

Even the current freshmen of the 2010 to ’11 academic year will not be allowed to graduate from UMC. There now will be only one school in Minnesota offering this degree, which is the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

Access to programming

North Dakota State University in Fargo is the only other school in close proximity. Other programs do exist, such as Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin, but also reside out-of-state.

Students come to Crookston because they want the “small campus, big degree” experience, as its slogan promises. The Twin Cities cannot offer that. College programs in other states differ in their licensures. UMC is the only one that qualifies students to teach ag ed in fifth through 12th grade, in addition to offering a ninth-to-12th-grade work-based licensure, which is a rarity and a treasure.

As you can imagine, there are major inconveniences for students who have to transfer, even if they transfer from Crookston to the Twin Cities — some credits still may be rejected. Nothing like having to pay for the same class twice.

We fought hard and professionally as students to let our voices be heard. I commend all of the students who headed these efforts. A petition with more than 300 signatures proved the passion we and the community members all hold for our program, numerous articles to local papers and radio talk shows, along with countless meetings with UMC’s chancellor and some with the vice president provided not even the slightest reconsideration for the program.

Quality of education

What makes it worse is that, even if the numbers stayed “low,” the cost per student in the ag ed program is well below the average in comparison with other programs at UMC.

There literally is nothing to be gained from its termination. The ultimate worst part of the situation is the quality of education that will be lost.

As frustrated as I am by the decision, I cannot say anything bad about the education I have received thus far. The professors I have had for class cannot be compensated enough for the knowledge they share with others and the skillfully entertaining way they deliver it.

Throughout the past two years, my “unforgettable moments” are all ones that have taken place in the classroom, or rather, outside of it. Such classes as Introduction to Agricultural Mechanics took us outside, where we learned how to correctly form for and place concrete, and yes, there is a difference between concrete and cement.

In my Renewable Energy class, we went out and about to do a home energy audit, toured a shop heated with geothermal energy, in addition to making biodiesel out of sunflower seed oil.

In World Ag Food Systems, we had to prepare a complete meal from another country. Every one of these classes were with students who are just like me and educators who know you by name. They are fervent about their subject, and it can’t help but be contagious.

Unfortunately, others once interested in receiving the same high-quality education and treatment through the ag ed degree will not have the opportunity to do so. My adviser, Lyle Westrom, was the only reason I even went to college. He believed in me so strongly that I started to believe in myself.

His 22 years of dedication to the UMC, 12 of which were devoted to the agricultural education program, never will be forgotten. The impact he has made in the community, internationally and personally to every one of us never can be repaid appropriately with only words.

All we can do to thank him is to reach our potential as ag educators and continue to deliver the same opportunities to students that he often times had created for us.

Politics appear to have played a role in the decision to close the program, and those responsible claim that they understand the value of agriculture; as the chancellor holds a doctorate of veterinary medicine degree.

Ag as the future

The vice president stated on many occasions, and personally to me, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my high school ag teacher.”

Despite the claims, as the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” On that note, we all hear you loud and clear. What is more disturbing is that agricultural literacy is decreasing throughout the United States. Farming no longer is understood or appreciated by most people. The way it is done has changed, and traditional values and lifestyles have been compromised. It’s funny how jeans only had holes in them when they were earned; now people buy them that way.

Times are changing, and as the chancellor looks to “provide more degrees of the future,” I start to wonder why people don’t recognize agriculture as the future. Do they realize that the food we eat, the air we breathe and the land we live on are all a part of agriculture? Apparently not. Alan Jackson says it best when he says, “There goes the little man.” I just wish it didn’t have quite so much truth to it.

Editor’s Note: Cardinal is a sophomore in the agricultural education program at the University of Minnesota-Crookston.

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