Fall 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB2

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Where Are Future Agents Coming From?


Douglas C. Bachtel
Extension Rural Sociologist
University of Georgia-Athens

While the number of U.S. farms has declined, the number of students graduating with agricultural degrees has increased by 64% in the past 35 years. Despite the complexity of problems facing agriculture, job opportunities for College of Agriculture graduates have remained lucrative.

The myriad of changes surrounding agriculture combined with the relatively good and varied employment prospects for College of Agriculture graduates directly affects the Extension Service in two significant ways. First, the farm population has historically been a major portion of Extension's clientele base. While farming has and always will be a critically important enterprise, the number of people directly engaged in production agriculture will continue to decline. Thus, Extension's primary support group also will decrease. Second, the reduced farm population also affects Extension because, historically, a large portion of Extension's professionals have had farm backgrounds. The net effect of these trends is that Extension clientele and the traditional pool of potential workers will continue to decrease into the next century.

To understand how the current social environment will affect future Extension staffing requirements, a survey of College of Agriculture students was conducted during the fall of 1985. A questionnaire was developed and administered to all incoming freshmen in the College of Agriculture at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia; Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia; The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia; and Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. These institutions were chosen because personal contact made the survey relatively easy to conduct. Usable questionnaires were obtained from 672 students (98%).

A series of questions was specifically designed to determine the students' first and second future career choices. The information revealed that only 2.6% of the respondents indicated an Extension career as their first choice of an agricultural occupation and only seven percent said Extension would be their second career choice.

The implications of the changing environment surrounding agriculture have profound consequences for the Extension Service. Innovative programming and delivery have been a standard method of operation since Extension's early beginnings. Attracting and recruiting Extension professionals from a relatively small and shrinking pool of potential recruits, however, is an altogether new challenge requiring major organizational, policy, and attitudinal changes.

The mandatory requirement of a degree in agriculture for Extension employment may have to be eliminated as the demographic effects of the shrinking farm population reduces the traditional pool of Extension recruits. Perhaps the most difficult change will be accepting the next generation of Extension professionals. Urban born, nonagricultural-degreed professionals will be working side by side with and, in some areas, be supervising Extension professionals from farm backgrounds with agricultural degrees. This transition may be easy for many and no doubt difficult for others. It may also be a difficult transition for farm clientele.

Although the number of rural farm youth has decreased, College of Agriculture enrollments have increased by attracting agriculture career-oriented urban students. These contrasting trends highlight the complexity of issues confronting agricultural decision makers and professionals as they operate in a changing environment.