WIU introduces agriculture career options to high school students

MOLINE, Illinois -- More than a third of agriculture jobs available are filled by people with non-agriculture degrees, according to a statement from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In an effort to spread awareness about what jobs are available in agriculture, Western Illinois University is offering dual-enrollment classes for high school seniors.   A $100,000 grant from the Moline Foundation was given to get the program rolling, according to a statement from Western Illinois University. 

Adjunct professor Al Zwilling said students are enrolled for free and walk away with college credits transferable as science credit.  He said the goal of the class is ultimately to get students on the path toward a career in agriculture.

According to the USDA, on average, 61% of 57,900 available agriculture jobs are filled by people with degrees in the field.  To fill the rest of the openings, employers look to graduates with education in biology, business administration, engineering, education, communication, and consumer sciences.

"There are careers in agriculture that they may just not have thought of," he said, "so part of the goal of the course is to expose them to local employment opportunities and global opportunities."

The fall 2018 class, Horticulture 180, is teaching students plant science, plant growth, food and floral production.  The students enrolled in the program are from different high schools around the Quad Cities.

Josh Lane, a home-school student associated with Keystone Academy said this class is helping him jump start his education.

"I really want to get a head start on my college and with this being a free class it’s really great to get started," he said.

Bettendorf High School senior Clarah Buhman said until now she hadn't had the opportunity to learn about agriculture.

"I’ve always liked to be outside and doing stuff so it’s just really cool to actually learn about it," she said.

In the fall 2018 semester, only five students were enrolled in the program; Zwilling said 30 spaces were available.   He said they hope to grow the program in the coming semesters.

For more information, contact Andrew Baker, director of the WIU School of Agriculture, at AJ-Baker@wiu.edu or (309) 298-1080; or visit wiu.edu/cbt/agriculture or molinefoundation.org.