North Carolina A&T Goes the Distance to Curb Shortage of Agricultural Education TeachersBy Ronald Roach
In an effort to boost the number of North Carolina’s agricultural education teachers, North Carolina A&T State University has introduced an online degree program to allow community-college graduates to attain a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education.
The program, known as the 2 + 2 Online Studies in Agricultural Education, gets fully under way this fall semester, and is targeted toward people who hold associate’s degrees in a landscaping, turf grass or a horticultural field from 10 North Carolina community colleges. The curriculum includes a 15-week student-teaching requirement, as well as general education requirements in English, biology, math and other subjects that can be satisfied at any community college or four-year university.
“In North Carolina, we have a shortage of teachers in all curriculums. The shortage in agricultural education is especially severe,” says Dr. Antoine Alston, coordinator of the agricultural education program at North Carolina A&T.
The community colleges are a “vast pool of students for us,” Alston explains, noting that 18 community colleges in North Carolina have associate’s degree programs in turf grass management, horticulture and landscape design. The 10 community colleges participating in the 2 + 2 program are in the counties of Brunswick, Caldwell, Catawba, Forsyth, Johnston, Lenoir, Mayland, Sampson, Sandhills and Surry.
The collaboration between historically Black North Carolina A&T and the state’s community colleges has evolved from efforts A&T made in establishing articulation agreements with the 18 schools. The agreements allow associate’s degree graduates in horticultural technology, turf grass management and landscaping to transfer into the four-year counterpart program at A&T, according to Alston.
Alston says he hopes to see the undergraduate agricultural education cohort at A&T grow from around seven students to 20 annually with the influx of new students from the online program. He says degree candidates will be able to fulfill their student-teaching requirements at high schools close to where they live. The only other public university in North Carolina that grants degrees in agricultural education is North Carolina State University, which does not have a program similar to the 2 + 2 initiative, according to Alston.
Dr. Bruce Williams, president of the North Carolina Association of Horticulture Instructors, believes there will be considerable demand by students to take advantage of the 2 + 2 program. As director of the turf grass management and horticulture program at Brunswick Community College in Supply, N.C., Williams says two Brunswick county residents have already signed up for the 2 + 2 program.
“We’re a small county of 70,000 people. There are 100 counties in North Carolina, and if we’re any indication of how much potential enrollment is out there, I think this program will be popular,” Williams says.
Williams explains that there’s a strong demand in the economy for people with horticultural skills and expertise. There’s a huge shift in agriculture employment in the United States, where crop cultivation and harvesting is in decline as a major employer, but jobs in the horticultural sector are growing. Horticulture includes the fields of landscaping, gardening and turf grass management. “Our students experience a 100 percent job placement rate when they graduate,” Williams says.
Williams praises North Carolina A&T officials for developing the 2 + 2 initiative. “It’s a sorely needed program,” he says.
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