Record enrollment within the College of Agriculture

Caitlin Deaver

Expectations are high in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences this year, with the college anticipating approximately 4,000 undergraduate students for the fall of 2013.

The past two years have trumped the last undergraduate enrollment record set back in the fall of 1977, which had 3,623. The fall of 2012 set the current official record with 3,900 undergraduates.

The number of graduate students is expected to rise, too. This fall, nearly 700 graduates are expected to enroll, compared to 655 graduate students in 2012.

With enrollment falling between 1977 and 2012, the most prominent cause was the farm crisis in the 1980s that put a financial crunch on the Midwest. Since most students in the College of Agriculture are Iowans, the decline in enrollment parallels the farm crisis.

However, enrollment soon picked up again, leading a slow and steady incline and producing the numbers seen in 2012.

“Enrollment started to climb in the late 1980s and into the 1990s,” said Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture, in an email. “Our undergraduate enrollment has increased nearly 60 percent from 2005 to 2012. 

The college also has made efforts to increase enrollment by advertising its benefits more extensively to potential students and their families. During the recruitment process, potential students can more readily determine their majors with the information provided before enrollment.

The college also has used social media to provide information for a large base of students, faculty, alumni and potential students.

The college currently offers 25 majors, allowing more career opportunities after attaining a degree by combining traditional programs into newer ones.

“I think we’ve been able to maintain our brand and maybe do some re-branding,” said Joe Colletti, senior associate dean of the college. “[Students] don’t have to just go back to the farm.”

The college is also instilling its students with all the skills necessary to build successful careers. These skills come from a highly reputed faculty. In the last six years, seven faculty members earned national excellence in teaching honors.

“Our college has an international reputation for excellent, high-quality educational programs that prepare extraordinary future leaders,” Wintersteen said. “Our students learn from the best — many of our faculty are internationally known for their science and service. Our faculty [includes] terrific advisers, mentors and great teachers.”

For the past 15 years, the employment rate of agriculture and life sciences graduates has been at or near 98 percent, acting as a driving force behind the record numbers in enrollment. The college hosts the largest agricultural career fair in the nation each fall, attracting upward of 200 employers. They hold the second largest in the spring.

Another way the college encourages students to enroll includes financial support and involvement within students clubs and organizations. Each year, the college offers more than $2 million in scholarships and works to increase the number of scholarship offers.

Memberships within agriculture and life sciences clubs and organizations have increased as well, leading to more opportunities, events and activities in which students can participate.

According to future demographics of the state and agricultural interest, enrollment rates in the college should level off and spike again within the next four to five years. However, the college still has strong signals from companies looking to hire graduates of agriculture and life sciences.

The college offers academic and nonacademic experience for its students and works to ensure they have the tools necessary to succeed in their future careers.

“We have a good stock of students coming in,” Colletti said. “They’re great. Our job is to make sure they go out even better.”