Returning by popular demand: An agricultural education major at the University of Minnesota Crookston.

State budget cuts caused UMC to discontinue the program in 2013, despite strong support from agriculturalists. Ag education majors already were in short supply in Minnesota and nationally, school officials and others told Agweek at the time. They also said interest in the program, established in 2000 at UMC, was growing.

Now, strong demand for high school and adult ag teachers led the University of Minnesota Board of Regents to approve the degree program in February. That approval, in turn, allowed the Minnesota Board of Teaching in October to approve two teacher licensure areas: teachers of agriculture education and teacher coordinators of work-based learning in agriculture education.

“This is great news. It’s back, it’s officially back,” says Lyle Westrom, a professor in the UMC’s agriculture and natural resources department. He was among the UMC officials who supported the program when it was on the chopping block.

UMC students can begin taking ag education classes again in the spring 2016 semester. Its first new crop of ag education majors will graduate in the spring of 2018.

The 2018 graduates “will be a smaller group, but we’ll have one,” Westrom says.

Some of those graduates will be students who transfer to UMC because of the ag education major, while others will be students who already attend the school, he says.

There are no guarantees that ag education majors can find jobs, but the outlook for them is highly promising, Westrom and others say.

The supply of high school and adult ag teachers doesn’t meet the demand now, and an impending wave in retiring ag teachers in their 50s and 60s will increase the need for more, Westrom says.

“Graduates of the program will earn licenses, adding flexibility to the courses they can teach and making them highly competitive in the job market,” UMC says of its program. “The agricultural education major is a mix of courses from agricultural science, natural and managed environmental science, and agricultural systems engineering technology. Along with these required components, students majoring in agricultural education will have core courses focused on education and agricultural education.”

Crookston consolidation

In the past, the University of Minnesota split its ag education program between the Crookston and Twin Cities campuses. Now, the entire program will be offered in Crookston.

“We’re excited about that,” Westrom says, noting agriculture has always been important at the Crookston school.

UMC Chancellor Fred Wood also applauds the return of the ag education major.

“Agriculture is critically important to the state of Minnesota and the entire world, and we are excited to offer high schools well-trained, qualified teachers for their ag classrooms,” he says in a news release.