Kent State Tusc. branch debuts agribusiness degree

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NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio — Up until this year, options for high school graduates in the eastern part of Ohio wanting to attend college to pursue a career in agriculture were limited — both by geography and degrees available.

This fall, however, Kent State University Tuscarawas will begin offering a new agribusiness bachelor’s degree.
“Originally it came out of a need,” Dave Baird, Tuscarawas/Carroll county executive director with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

Baird was a member of the KSU Tuscarawas agribusiness advisory board that helped develop the program.

“Wilmington (College), and ATI at Ohio State, are obviously options,” said Baird, who himself earned his bachelor’s in agriculture from the Ohio State University. “But you had all these students in the eastern part of the state and (schools like) OSU are getting tough to get into.”

Waliah Poto, senior business manager at KSU Tuscarawas, said the university will become the only school on the east side of the state to offer agribusiness. Ohio State’s two-year technical school, the Agricultural Technical Institute, is located in Wooster.

“People who are time-bound and place-bound can’t leave the area to attend OSU,” she said. “Now we are in their own backyard.”

Determining need

The move to create a business-centric agricultural degree program in the eastern part of the state began more than two years ago, Baird said, with a survey. That survey determined both a need for a broad-based agribusiness degree and wide support from the local agricultural industry.

The Agribusiness Advisory Board, made up of educators, agriculture industry leaders and other community members, was formed to begin the process of building the program itself.

“It is a strict process to add a program to a university,” Baird said. “We had to go before the university board of directors and they asked us very specific questions: Is there a demand? How many people are you going to hire in the next year? How many people do you think you will be hiring in this area? How many if they took up this program? And there were lots of letters of recommendation.”

Adding a bachelor’s program at any state university, he added, also requires approval from the Ohio Board of Regents.

“They need to ensure that it is not just a university adding on a degree to make money,” Baird said. “So it is imperative for the university and the community to come together.”

Best practices

Poto was part of a KSU Tuscarawas degree development team that traveled to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to meet with the agribusiness faculty there.

“We chose Nebraska-Lincoln to develop our curriculum because they are nationally known for their agribusiness program,” she said. “(The state of) Nebraska is ‘big-farm business.’ But with the research we shared with them, they developed the curriculum to match our state.”

The KSU Agribusiness Advisory Board looked through the course recommendations, making changes to areas they felt were more applicable in Ohio.

Program details

“Agribusiness” is a complex economic system that affects entire communities, from producer to consumer, including farm production; businesses that supply seed, fertilizer, chemicals, feed and equipment; as well as finance, insurance and marketing sectors.

The KSU Tuscarawas Agribusiness program blends business and agriculture with a focus on the technical aspects of modern agriculture and food systems; plant, animal and soil sciences; and marketing, sales and management techniques in production.

Coursework also includes accounting, business, economics, English and mathematics. Many existing associate degrees have similar coursework that can count toward the agribusiness degree.

New courses include Farm Business Management, Agricultural Finance, Farm Income Tax Management, Agricultural Price Analysis, Agricultural International Trade Policy and Agricultural Environmental Law.

The degree requires a minimum of 120 credit hours as well as an internship.

Broad curriculum

Baird said the highlight of the agribusiness program is that it is not “super specialized.”

“For kids who are interested in something other than agronomy or livestock production, and who desire a more broad-based knowledge of ag laws, practices, and business concepts, they are getting more of an opportunity here than at, say, ATI,” Baird said.

Job market

According to the KSU Tuscarawas website, students completing the agribusiness program will be prepared for jobs in farm production, management, marketing and advertising, wholesale and retail, agricultural commodity merchandising, finance and lending, real estate management and investment, international trade, entrepreneurship.

In Baird’s opinion, the sky is the limit for agribusiness graduates.

“One of the questions we were asked was how many jobs we thought would be available in Ohio to students with this degree,” he said. “My question was, ‘why stop at Ohio?’

“And it doesn’t even necessarily stop at the ag industry.”

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