Identifying Factors that Influence Agriculture Students ...

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Unfortunately, the number of graduates seeking careers in agriculture each .... Employment opportunities for college graduates in food, renewable energy, and ...

A Major Decision:

Identifying Factors that Influence Agriculture Students’ Choice of Academic Major

Shelli Danjean, Kristin Stair, Joey Blackburn, J.C. Bunch

Department of Agricultural & Extension Education & Evaluation, Louisiana State University

Introduction The rate of development needed to address the challenges in the agricultural industry cannot be sustained without an adequate supply of qualified agriculture and extension professionals (Doerfert, 2011). Unfortunately, the number of graduates seeking careers in agriculture each year has remained less than the number of job positions to be filled (Goecker et al., 2010). CoAs are estimated to supply only slightly more than half of the number of graduates needed to fill job openings through 2015 (Goeker et al., 2010). As such, developing a sufficient agricultural workforce has been established as an agricultural education research priority, and CoAs must critically examine their current role in the developing the future workforce and utilize best strategies of recruiting and retaining future agricultural professionals (Doerfert, 2011; NAS, 2009).

Purpose The purpose of this study was to describe the factors influencing agriculture students’ choice of academic major. The objectives of this study were to describe the level of influence of the following factors on students’ choice of major: (a) high school factors; (b) family and friends; (c) agricultural and educational professionals;(d) university factors; and (e) future job considerations.

Theoretical Framework The theoretical framework for this study was based on the factors influencing selection of college major model developed by Hodges and Karpova (2010). This model, while initially designed for fashion, carries implications for agriculture, especially with the addition of industry dynamics and media that may heavily impact students’ decision to choose one area of agriculture over another.

Methodology Population: The population consisted of full-time CoA freshmen enrolled in AGRI 1001: Introduction to Agriculture at Louisiana State University (LSU) (N = 259). Students were asked to participate in this study as part of their course grade, which yielded a 100% response rate. This study was a census of first-year CoA students, and results cannot be generalized beyond the scope of this study.   Instrument: Originally developed by Wildman and Torres (2001). Reliability of the original instrument was established using the test-retest approach. Cronbach’s alpha was calculated post hoc for each factor subdivision. A panel of experts analyzed the instrument to establish face and content validity. A five-point Likert type scale was used to measure the influence of various factors on students choice of major, as well as the extent of consideration given to select job considerations.   Data Analysis: Data were analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 22 for Macintosh. Descriptive statistics, including frequency, percentage, mean and standard deviation were calculated to meet the objectives of the study.

Conclusions

Recommendations

Several key factors were influential in students’ decision to major in agriculture. Consistent with the classification model proposed by Hodges and Karpova (2010), the factors included personal characteristics, interpersonal factors, and environmental factors. Moreover, contextual factors unique to agriculture majors were identified.

• A critical first step for CoAs in improving recruitment strategies is to examine the demographics and psychographics (Hodges & Karpova, 2010) of currently enrolled and targeted populations of students.

• The typical agriculture student in this study was a white, 18 year old female from a small city or suburban hometown, and the overwhelming majority of students had not taken an agriculture course in high school. • Students considered parents/guardians and agricultural professionals as the most influential, while college friends were reported as having the lowest level of influence. • College or department factors that were most influential were the friendliness and overall atmosphere of the CoA and information pamphlets about agriculture majors • Students considered the job market, potential income after graduating, and working with people as the most critical factors to their choice of major. These findings provide support for using the classification schema developed by Hodges and Karpova (2010) to summarize and systematize the various factors influencing students’ decision to major in agriculture.

References

Findings

Doerfert, D. L. (2011). National research agenda: American Association for Agricultural Education’s research priority areas for 2011-2015. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University, Department of Agricultural Education and Communications. Goecker, A. D., Smith, P. G., Smith, E., & Goetz, R. (2010). Employment opportunities for college graduates in food, renewable energy, and he environment: United States, 2010 – 2015. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University. Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2010). Majoring in fashion: A theoretical framework for understanding the decision-making process. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 3(2), 67–76. National Academy of Sciences (NAS). (2009). Transforming agricultural education for a changing world. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Wildman, M. & Torres, R. M. (2001). Factors identified when selecting a major in agriculture. Journal of Agricultural Education, 42(2), 46–55. doi: 10.5032/jae.2001.02046

• Considering that three fourths of the students in this study were female, it could be beneficial to conduct a follow up study to examine differences in influential factors on students’ choice of major by gender. • This study should be replicated with students in other academic levels. The low influence of college friends reported in this study may be explained by the fact that the students in this study were all in the first semester of their first year in college. • Considering the strong influence of parents/ guardians, future research should be conducted to examine parents’ perceptions of the CoA at LSU and the programs of study offered. • The vague nature of the terms agriculture professionals and personal role models warrants further examination. A qualitative follow up study could provide a better understanding of who these influential agriculture professionals and personal role models are.

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